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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Geeks of Wall Street

‘The Big Short’ is 'Anchorman' director Adam McKay’s first movie not featuring Will Ferrell, and it also happens to be his best by far - with all due respect to Mr. Ferrell.  Trying to make the 2008 economic crisis brought about by the collapse of the housing market into a black comedy can be quite a challenge, considering that it shattered the lives of so many people.  Yet somehow McKay and the movie’s ensemble cast led by Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt managed to pull it off brilliantly.
 
Adapted from the 2011 non-fiction bestseller by Michael Lewis with the same title, TBS is the (somewhat) true story of how a disparate group of renegade investors went against the grain and bet against the then “rock solid” housing market.  As early as 2005, a neurologist-turned-hedge fund manager named Michael Burry (Bale) foresaw the subprime mortgage crisis and created the “credit default swap” market, betting that people won’t be able to pay off their mortgages in a couple of years because banks were approving loans at an alarming rate to people who have no business owning homes, like the stripper who owned 5 houses (and a condo) in the movie.  A few other savvy and like-minded investors soon caught on, like Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and a couple of enterprising young "Wolves of Wall Street" in Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley, who needed an assist from retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to get them in on the “deal of the century.”  But the best performance award has to go to Steve Carell, whose Mark Baum was a sheer revelation.  The steady progression of Baum's disgust and despair the deeper he delved into the corrupt financial credit system is a true reflection of the resentment bitterly felt by so many Americans who lost their homes and pension funds in the aftermath.
 
Razor sharp, whip smart and bitingly funny, TBS is tragicomedy at its very best.  The film often resembles a docudrama and routinely commits cardinal sins, such as taking the hammer to the “fourth wall” by having Gosling’s character look directly at the camera to address the audience on many occasions.  Along the way the movie also recruits experts and non-experts alike including respected University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler, TV celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, sexy Australian actress Margot Robbie and cutie-pie pop star Selena Gomez to explain the finer points of economics as the crisis unfolds, making such esoteric terms as “Collateralized Debt Obligations” (CDO’s) accessible to the layperson, all in fourth wall-breaking style.  Don't miss it.

Grade: A
 
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