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BIG SHORT, THE

SYNOPSIS: Four outsiders in the world of high-finance who predicted the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s decide to take on the big banks for their lack of foresight and greed. (Based on a true story)

Review by Louise Keller:
Filled with bravado, this edgy, darkly cutting film about greed, corruption and the 2008 financial crisis left me feeling outraged and terrified. Terrified about the system; human nature; the future. Adapted from Michael Lewis's book, Adam McKay's high energy and fast paced film plays like an entertaining farce set in the powerful world of high finance, punctuated by inventive, left of field ideas. While Charles Ferguson's documentary Inside Job (2010) and J.C. Chandor's thriller Margin Call (2011) follow a more traditional approach to the topic, The Big Short has irreverence, throwing caution to the wind, as the envelope is pushed in every direction.

There are no heroes or endearing characters; the film's perspective comes from a handful of diverse players who see the crash coming before anyone else. Centre stage is Christian Bale's barefoot, glass-eyed, anti-social number cruncher Michael Burry, who likes to be alone and beats out his frustrations on his drum kit, as he takes a close look at the detail of the individual numbers within the thousands of mortgages that make up the bonds. Perpetually angry is Steve Carell's Mark Baum, a hedge fund financier who has a nose for bs and inconsistencies and can't face a traumatic personal issue. Carell's intensity ensures dramatic power. Then there is Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), a former successful trader, who has left the scene for alternative pastures, and is roped in by two finance novices (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock) eager to make a killing at the big boys' table. Pitt is effective, hiding behind spectacles, a beard and a laid-back manner. Ryan Gosling, as narrator, Marisa Tomei as Carell's wife also contribute.

The scene in which Burry meets (first) with Goldman Sachs and bets against the seemingly booming housing market with his investors' funds highlights the disbelief of the financial institutions. McKay cleverly uses novel tactics to explain the terminology like tranches, AAA mortgages, CDOs and swaps - including Margot Robbie in a bubble bath and Chef Anthony Bourdain, using three-day old fish as an analogy.

The film builds up a head of steam as tension builds in the lead up to the collapse of the banks and the housing bubble. It's a fascinating insight, described from a totally different viewpoint. The terminology and processes might be confusing at times, but the overall message is clear: greed is not good. As for the combination of greed, fraud and stupidity - it's a dizzying cocktail of terrifying proportions.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
In those days before the global financial crash of the mid 2000s, a NINJA loan application was one made by a person who had No Income and No Job to declare on the application and there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of eager young salesmen bragging about how much commission they made off these. For example, there was the 'exotic dancer' (Maria Frangos) who had borrowed heavily against mortgages on four houses and an apartment. Most of these loans were based on variable rates - and as lending rates rose, even minimally, these borrowers - already stretched to repay what they owed - defaulted. Some 6 million in the US alone lost their homes.

This is just one sliver of the whole sorry story, which the filmmakers tell with a combination of brio and passion. Nobody is portrayed as a hero and the senior ranks of the big banks and the ratings agencies are prosecuted in this filmic court with dogged dedication and persuasive arguments, all backed by the unavoidable truth of what happened. There really was a crash and there really are people who have never been prosecuted for their parts in that. They work on Wall Street.

As cinema, The Big Short is notable for its use of visual devices to create atmosphere - chaotic, unruly and a world full of contrasts - and for its willingness to have a couple of characters 'cross the line' and speak directly to us via the camera, to explain some of the intricacies of trading in phantom securities (for example). Ryan Gosling's Jared Vennett does the most of this, a central player, but as he admits himself, not a hero; he never pretended to be. A top performance.

Sometimes the filmmakers put the explanation into the mouths of attractive women (one of them while having a bubble bath and sipping champagne) to help clarify the details while keeping women in the picture. Also recruited to clarify how the system recycled bad loans in celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who demonstrates with left over fish used for a fish stew to hide its second rate qualities ...

Christian Bale gives a sensational performance in the key role of the offbeat Dr Michael Burry, who foresaw the looming catastrophe; Steve Carell hits a new performance high as Mark Baum, a fierce if flawed man with a conscience; Brad Pitt makes a deceptively minimalist ex trader, Ben Rickert, whose help is invaluable to Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro), a couple of young upstarts trying to get a seat at the table with the big boys. Jeremy Striong as Vinnie and Rafe Spall as part of Mark Baum's team are also highly effective.

It's a riveting film, depressing in its critique of a system that was built on greed and fraud - and rebuilt after the crash with taxpayers' money, only to continue its brazen practices today. Will it make a difference? It should. Millions around the world were also affected, including Australians, superannuants not least. See it; talk about it.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

BIG SHORT, THE (M)
(US, 2015)

CAST: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Karen Gillan, Finn Wittrock, Melissa Leo, Rafe Spall

PRODUCER: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Arnon Milchan, Brad Pitt

DIRECTOR: Adam McKay

SCRIPT: Adam McKay, Charles Randolph (book by Michael Lewis)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Barry Ackroyd

EDITOR: Hank Corwin

MUSIC: Nicholas Britell

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Clayton Hartley

RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 14, 2016







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