Thursday, December 24, 2015

Review of THE BIG SHORT

The movie THE BIG SHORT (based on the book) is a slick, entertaining docudrama about the corruption and blindness on Wall Street, leading up to the collapse in late 2008, when millions lost their savings and jobs due to bets made on top of bets (the repackaging of inferior subprime loans as AA or AAA, the complicity of the ratings agencies, the CDOs and credit default swaps, etc.) It was like a big party with everyone wearing blinders and drinking booze at an open bar. But parties or orgies always end, when the partiers are pushed out into the sunlight to deal with their hangovers. A telling moment is when the character played by Steve Carell visits an S&P auditor to find out why bad loans are not being rated bad, and she’s wearing dark medical glasses to protect her eyes from light. “If we didn’t give them the rating, they would go to our competitors,” she explains. Carell cringes, knowing that ratings are supposed to reflect reality, not hopeful fantasy. He goes to several neighborhoods to discover homes in which the owners have fled or are renting to others because they can’t pay their mortgages. Red flags are going up and no one seems to care. So he decides to short (bet against) his own bank, and others (like Christian Bale as a hedge fund manager) do also. Bale is an over-the-top eccentric who plays the drums to avoid hearing about his fund losing millions by the day, as the relentless lie of rising real estate prices (and his bosses’ invectives) increase. He knows he’s right, but can he make it to the end before investors sue him and throw him out? The movie adds humor to what might otherwise go over the heads of viewers, and uses a narration device to inject commentary, much as Pirates of Silicon Valley did in that Steve Jobs/Bill Gates biopic. (Hence, “docudrama.”) One example is when an explanation is required, and a supermodel in a bubble bath is called upon to deliver it; another when Selena Gomez explains from a Vegas gambling table. (Hence, "slick.") The biggest joke is saved for the end, which is both funny and sad, since the joke is on middle class Americans: no one went to jail, they got bonuses instead. And Wall Street went back to business as usual, after being bailed out. Is there another collapse coming? Absolutely, it’s just a matter of when. And you can bet the super rich won’t be the ones picking up the tab then, either. Wall Street, like Coca-Cola in the theater’s previews, doubles down on the same tactics which have worked in the past to deceive and distract while it picks our pockets both coming and going. The 2010 audiobook on which the movie is based is narrated by Jesse Boggs, with an intro by Michael Lewis. Little is known about Boggs, but he has an unassuming and pleasant voice, and delivers the proper tone while disappearing behind the text. 

Audiobook description from publisher: When the crash of the U.S. stock market became public knowledge in the fall of 2008, it was already old news. The real crash, the silent crash, had taken place over the previous year, in bizarre feeder markets where the sun doesn’t shine, and the SEC doesn’t dare, or bother, to tread: the bond and real estate derivative markets where geeks invent impenetrable securities to profit from the misery of lower and middle-class Americans who can’t pay their debts. The smart people who understood what was or might be happening were paralyzed by hope and fear; in any case, they weren’t talking. The crucial question is this: Who understood the risk inherent in the assumption of ever-rising real estate prices, a risk compounded daily by the creation of those arcane, artificial securities loosely based on piles of doubtful mortgages? Michael Lewis turns the inquiry on its head to create a fresh, character-driven narrative brimming with indignation and dark humor, a fitting sequel to his #1 bestselling Liar’s Poker. Who got it right? he asks. Who saw the ever-rising real estate market for the black hole it would become, and eventually made billions of dollars from that perception? And what qualities of character made those few persist when their peers and colleagues dismissed them as Chicken Littles? Out of this handful of unlikely—really unlikely—heroes, Lewis fashions a story as compelling and unusual as any of his earlier bestsellers, proving yet again that he is the finest and funniest chronicler of our times.     

   

No comments:

Post a Comment