The Big Short

Posted by Michael Parsons on December 23, 2015 in / 3 Comments


Leading up to the financial meltdown of 2008, this new econo-medy treats the then-imminent crisis like a tsunami about to make landfall,  and only a handful of people are standing on the beach to see the water receding from the shore. It didn’t happen overnight, though it sure felt like that to most of us. Suddenly, stock portfolios shriveled up and the housing market collapsed on top of the flimsy sub-prime loans that were supporting it. But still, how did the banks not see this coming? Was nobody else paying attention? Michael Lewis calls BS in a big and detailed way in his book “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine”, and director Adam McKay (the “Anchorman” movies), who adapted  it into this funny and informative movie with co-writer Charles Randolph, portrays the participating lenders in roughly the same light that Martin  Scorsese chronicled the demise of stock-swindling millionaire Jordan Belfort in ‘”The Wolf of Wall Street”. Only this story, as you probably know, ends with a massive government bailout instead of jail time.

Earlier this year, Ramin Bahrani’s potent thriller “99 Homes” viewed the fallout from the front lines of the real estate market, as a predatory broker profited on an unprecedented number of foreclosures in Orlando. “The Big Short” takes place on the other side of the bubble, where Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale, playing the only principal character whose name wasn’t altered for the movie), a socially awkward but brilliant hedge fund manager, makes an offer that the investment bankers simply can’t refuse: sell him tens of millions in default credit swaps, big_short_movie_poster_1which will payoff only if the mortgage market completely fails. In the meantime, he’ll be responsible for millions in annual premiums. Easy money, they’re thinking. High-fives all around.

Default credit swaps? Don’t worry if you’re not a financial analyst, “The Big Short” breaks the fourth wall on several occasions to put things like collateralized debt obligations into laymen’s terms, mainly via hotshot Deutsche Bank trader/narrator Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), and with the assistance of Selena Gomez, Anthony Bourdain and Margot Robbie in a few random and amusing sidebars. Vennett catches wind of Burry’s strategy and strikes a deal with another fund manager named Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) to get in on the action before the bubble bursts. Also on the scent are fledgling “garage band” traders (John Magaro, Finn Wittrock), who seek the help of retired investment guru Ben Rickert (co-producer Brad Pitt) to get them a seat at the big boy table. For Pitt’s character, the victory feels pyrrhic, as he interrupts his protégés’ celebratory dance with the sobering statistics from the financial catastrophe on which they’re profiting. But out of this ensemble, which is worthy of any director’s Christmas wish list, Bale is the most intriguing as the enigmatic bohemian/ex-neuorolgist/metalhead Burry, who toils away to Metallica’s “Eye of the Beholder”, “Master of Puppets” and Pantera’s “By Demons Be Driven”, a thematically appropriate playlist to express the anger that’s brimming beneath the film’s thin veil of humorous didacticism.


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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).


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