The triumph of The Big Short, featuring Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale, is in its ability to create amusing entertainment out of the complex and dry world of high finance, but without stooping to the boisterous and demeaning tactics of The Wolf of Wall Street and the two Gordon Gekko films.
Sure, it’s nice to have one stellar bad guy and one shining good guy to point out the pure evil behind Wall Street greed. But The Big Short takes another tact: Bankers, according to the Adam McKay, Charles Randolf script, are not so much bad guys, as really, really stupid.
Yes, there’s rampant fraud on Wall Street, but it is so built into the system that most bankers don’t have a clue that their small contribution in the financial universe is just one unglued weight-bearing wall in a house of cards.
The film tries to make heroes out of Michael Burry (Christian Bale), Steve Eisman (Steve Carell), Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), because these guys are basically Wall Street outsiders. Burry is so anti-social and quirky, he might have Asperger’s Syndrome. Eisman is so mad at the world after a brother’s suicide, there appears no way of putting his emotional house in order. Rickert, in turn, quit Wall Street to live on the organic edge of society in Colorado. This gives us some toe-hold on which to place our sympathy. But these guys are also opportunistic financiers who saw what nobody else saw when they bet against the housing market.
And, while Burry did the basic research, the others were just lucky enough to pay attention to the right tips at the right time.
What is mostly missing in this story about a recession that went global is a little bit of you and me. There’s anecdotal attention paid to a blue-collar homeowner duped by a bank into thinking he could live in a mansion with a subprime loan and a stripper interviewed early on who has five mortgages, all of which are doomed to fail.
By the end of the film, there’s a swelling of understanding that this financial tsunami has been triggered by a lot of stupid bankers, who either lost their jobs or still drive BMWs to work. There’s also a sad understanding that bankers pay off politicians far too well for any real change in finance laws to occur.
In fact, subliminally, The Big Short might just be a terrific pitch for fire and brimstone Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who says Wall Street should be very scared if he is elected president. Go, get ’em Bernie! The Big Short should be all the convincing most of us need.