Grade A

Part comedy, part drama, part suspense and part horror — unless you don’t think being unemployed and homeless is horrifying — “The Big Short” is an eye-opening, crazy ride into the world of financial markets and how the world economy collapsed in 2008/2009.

A handful of traders and investors (played by Steve Carell, Christian Bale, and Ryan Gosling, to name a few) have found serious flaws in the U.S. housing market that would cause it to collapse and take the entire U.S. economy — and those of other countries — down with it.  They decide to go “short” (basically a bet that prices will fall) against the housing market.  These men are laughed at and ridiculed by the rest of the traders/investors/banks who take the opposite bet; but eventually the financial apocalypse that so few had the vision to see — and the balls to take advantage of — will come, bringing such a wide swath of destruction that the effects are still felt by the entire world as I write this.

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Gosling is trying to do business with Carell to take a large, short position on the housing market.  Carell and his guys ask for the math on Gosling’s findings.  Gosling points to a young, Asian guy and tells Carell and his crew that the Asian guy is his math specialist!  “Look at his face, look at his eyes,” Gosling says.  Ha ha!   Yes, it was a racist comment; but it was also funny as hell.  I’m Asian, and I laughed my ass off — and even if I wasn’t Asian, I’d still laugh my ass off.  Don’t be so sensitive…the world isn’t here to tiptoe around your feelings.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Big Short” is the scene when Carell is in a restaurant asking a manager of a CDO fund (Collateralized Debt Obligation, which is a financial instrument that was filled with garbage a few years prior to the financial collapse of 2008/2009) what he does and what is in his CDO fund and who the manager really works for.   This scene quickly sums up the high level of greed and callousness in the financial markets that helped usher in all that pain for hundreds of millions of workers all throughout the world.   This scene is infuriating to watch.

For those not at all knowledgeable about the financial markets, “The Big Short” can be confusing despite a few segments where celebrities — playing themselves — explain things in a more simplified form.   But this will be easily understandable by all: there were a lot of shenanigans going on in the U.S. government, the ratings agencies, the traders/investors/brokers, real estate companies, banks, investment banks, and last but definitely not least, the numerous people who took out housing loans who had no idea what they were getting into.

Bottom line: whether you’re into stocks or bonds or currencies or commodities, it’s gambling.  Know exactly what you’re getting into.

— M

 

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