In 2008 there was a global financial crisis where a vast amount of money disappeared thanks to the financial sector's machinations, among other factors such as the public allowing them to get away with it because they wanted free money, not accepting that paying it back was vital, and the governments that had taken away restrictions on how these banks could operate. Countless jobs, homes, even lives were lost. But here is Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) to tell us of how this happened, and he starts back in the nineteen-seventies when banking was regarded as a boring, low gain and low excitement occupation. That all changed when the banks realised there was a huge profit to be made in mortgages, illegally and without anyone to stop them...
Ever since the turn of the millennium, apocalypse narratives became more popular than ever before, hitherto the province of science fiction but increasingly bleeding into other genres and media, including the news media. The Big Short eschewed the fictional, such as horror or religious tropes, and went straight for the jugular, making it clear that even if you didn't understand every minute detail of the financial crisis, you would at least take away from director Adam McKay's film that things were teetering on a precipice, not something that could be consigned to the past of 2008 since the same people who brought us to that disaster were still very much in power, and pulling the same tricks.
Tricks that saw them rewarded with unimaginable sums of money compared to those who were actually suffering the most, the poor and disadvantaged, a section of the world that was growing to encompass even those who had previously judged themselves to be well off, but that was fine with the money men when it was not they who would bear the brunt of the blame, that would be landed on the poor and the immigrants. The Big Short argued in not so many words that it was not going to be the terrorists or the rogue states that finished us off as our nations' structures were doing that very well on their own, though you could note that the less power those at the bottom rungs had, the more desperate they would be in trying to assert themselves, turning to all sorts of extreme beliefs.
The only belief this film wanted you to wake up to was that the banks, and the authorities that sanctioned them, were gaily riding roughshod over our economies for their own enormous gains, and in true Armageddon style there didn't appear to the anything the man or woman in the street could do to stop the onslaught of hellfire. McKay cast a series of famous faces to make his points, with the likes of Gosling, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt (a producer, as he was on Moneyball, also based on a book by Michael Lewis) playing fictionalised versions of actual people involved, though Christian Bale played a real person, the "weirdo" who noticed the exploitation of mass borrowing was a bubble that was going to burst sooner or later, and meant to make his own billion-dollar fortune with it.
Other characters see the same, and set gears in motion to make their own fortunes, which left the story without a sympathetic heart, though that eventually fell on Carell's shoulders as he works out the sickening levels of corruption that has gone into allowing this monetary atrocity to take place and finds there's nothing he can do to stop it. Finn Wittrock and John Magaro were two financial whizz kids who realised too, and were all set to whoop it up as newly minted millionaires when their mentor, paranoid (but with some justification) ex-banker Pitt mentions the harrowing cost that this will carry. So there was a conscience here, but too many ignored it in a film that threatened to make its case oversimplified to render it understandable, roping in Margot Robbie in a bubble bath or Selena Gomez at the Las Vegas gambling tables to clarify some finer points, but this did make the film a focus of discussion, which had been the idea. No, you won't come away from this an expert, but pay attention and you might learn something. Something really terrible. Music by Nicholas Britell.