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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jan 21, 2016

The Big Short Review: A Cautionary Movie About The 2008 Financial Crisis In The U.S.

THE OSCAR-nominated film, “The Big Short”, is now being shown in a few local theatres and if you’re a movie buff who doesn’t just like the usual kababawan but also go for films with more serious content, we advise you to see it right away. It certainly won’t last very long in our theaters simply because a lot of local viewers won’t be able to understand it, even if Director Adam McKay tries his best to explain everything technical in it in layman’s terms.

It’s about the 2008 global financial crisis and is based on Michael Lewis’ book, “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine” (he also wrote “Moneyball”). The film is told from the point of view of some bright investors who saw the unstable foundation of subprime mortgages not foreseen by even America’s Treasury officials and its biggest banks. These wheeler dealers end up raking in a lot of money from the financial system’s meltdown.

First is Michael Burry (Christian Bale), an eccentric neurologist who goes into the stock market. Then there’s banker Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and broker Mark Baum (Steve Carell) who go into the credit default swap business. There are also two younger men new into investments, Charles Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock), who start their business in a garage and join the game with the help of a semi-retired broker, Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt).

They’re all greedy, all unethical, but in all fairness to them, they tried to warn some authorities about the impending doomsday and what they foresee, including the press (Wall St.), but no one listened to them and so they all get huge profits from their prescience. What happened to America can also happen to us. We ourselves just lost some money we put in the pre-need business for the education of one grandchild with the Yuchengco Group. It’s amazing how slack the supervision and regulation of the banking and business practices can be, with the common people like us who are most badly affected.

In telling the story, McKay uses a lot of creative techniques to explain financial jargon like collateralized debt obligations (CDO). Some characters talk directly to the camera (the movie opens with Ryan Gosling speaking to the viewers) and celebrities are used to explain some complex concepts. Actress Margot Robbie explains mortgaged-backed securities while on a bathtub sipping champagne.

Famous chef Anthony Bourdain uses the ingredients of what he’s cooking to show some financial analogy. Actress Selena Gomez also explains something while playing blackjack with another expert. Since McKay is a comedy director (“Anchorman”), he makes use of many comic elements to lighten things up, which is why the movie is nominated in the Golden Globes category for best musical/comedy picture even if it’s about a very serious subject.

Christian Bale is the only one who got a supporting actor Oscar nomination for this movie (he was nominated for best actor in the Golden Globe) and he is really superb. He is deglamorized again (just like in “The Fighter” where he won an Oscar in 2010) as the barefoot doctor with one glass eye and loves heavy metal music who’s the first one to see the dangers in overvalued bonds backed by subprime mortgages. But in all fairness to Gosling and Carell, they’re both equally outstanding in their respective roles. In the end, though, the film is really very sad and horrifying as you get to feel so sorry for the ordinary innocent people who lost their jobs or were evicted from their homes after the economic bubble burst.