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The Big Short

The Big Short came highly recommended but by those who worked in and understood the financial world. For those like me who do neither it’s all somewhat confusing. As I understand it, or more accurately as Bob Tickler helpfully explained, American high risk mortgages called sub prime carried AAA rating ( this assessed by agencies who were effectively controlled by the banks) even though they were not nearly as secure as such a rating might indicate. A hedge manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) spotted this and “shorted” the market by buying them in credit swaps. When the market collapsed he would sell making a fortune on the difference between what he paid for them and their eventual price. It is the ploy says Bob to adopt when you thinks stock will fall as you have in effect already sold it at a higher price. If the stock rises you are left with massive debt. The story as usual nowadays held out to be true came from a book by Michael Lewis best known for Moneyball.

The problem did not end with comprehension. The key characters Burry, a Deutsche Bank trader (Jared Vennett) played by Ryan Gosling and another cynical hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Catrell) and two wannabe dealers (advised by a Chase banker gone green played by Brad Pitt) who wanted to sit at the top table were all distinctly unattractive individuals even though cast as crusaders and clairvoyants. They swore, they were gross, some went to strip clubs they took mobile calls regardless of the social setting. They lived life to its vulgar excess. There was little to like here.

Nor as film did I find it well made. It had the quirky but not successful habit of flashing to celebrities like Margot Robbie, who played Leonardo Caprio’s wife in Wolf of Wolf Street, in a bubble bath  drinking champagne from a flute and explaining sub primwe. A well-know chef Anthony Bourdain compared the rehashing of the sub prime product under a new name as no different from him serving up fish he could not sell fresh  into a stew. Little maxims from Mark Twain or the Japanese writer Murakami would appear randomly. One that summed up this vulgar work best was heard in a Washington bar: “Truth is like poetry and people don’t fucking like poetry.”

Like many American films the acting is highly energised with much shouting and confrontation. Add to this perpetual use of the f word and it all becomes rather unattractive. Polly (Bob Tickler’s pa) was seconded to me for the day to assist with admin. She asked me to choose a film and I went for Blue is the Warmest Colour.  As we all watched it I explained that French films invariably have at least one slow meal scene and a pretentious discussion on philosophy. We were not let down but they have a contemplative quality too and characters which may be flawed but to which you can relate and which you never seem to get in modern, American cinema. You feel that even the better financial films like Changing  Places still admire the American dream of the amassing of vast wealth. The hedge fund Baum, in arguing the poor always carry the can, is as the executive of the rating company Poor states, a hypocrite. So the aftertaste as you leave the cinema is of a world most do not understand, made complicated by the different story lines from the financiers who made the money out of it and characters you would wish to avoid. Little wonder then that the cinema was one quarter full and this is the last showing in it.

About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts