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The Big Short (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 122 minutes.

Not for children.

I read Michael Lewis’s book, upon which this film is based, when it came out. I certainly didn’t envision this kind of movie about it.

And what kind of a movie is this? Well, to start out with, directed by Adam McKay, it is comedic. It is an extremely inventive telling of the story of how four guys saw disaster coming as the result of the Clinton Administration’s idea that everyone should be able to own a home, regardless of whether or not they could afford it. And this was abetted by the Bush Administration, which did nothing to stop the lunacy.

And what was the lunacy? This is explained in the movie, which neglects to mention the primary responsibility of Clinton and Bush and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the people who run them.

Since this is Hollywood, the bad guys in this movie are the big banks and brokerage firms who took shaky mortgage loans and packaged them into things called Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO) which were simply horrible mortgages on homes bought by people who couldn’t possibly satisfy the increased payments when the adjustable interest rate increased from the teaser to the real cost of money on all the mortgages that were packaged together into one unit that got AAA ratings from the lazy, weak ratings agencies.

Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale in a good, quirky performance) looks into it and it stares him in the face that all these things will go belly up when the rate changes. Being a money market manager, he sells as many short as he can (sells CDOs he doesn’t have with the idea of buying them back, covering, when the price drops, as he thinks is inevitable). McKay has this and other arcane things like Credit Debt Swaps (CDS) explained to the audience by unexpected celebrities like singer Selena Gomez. The explanations, while comedic, do a good job of explaining what these securities really were.

Of course the “smart guys” (like those at Bear Stearns and other people who like to think of themselves as money managers) laughed at Burry and his cohorts and made markets for them. When the deluge finally came, as Burry knew it would, it resulted in the financial debacle of 2008 and Burry and his friends were about the only ones who came out of it with profits, and their profits were huge.

The movie is entertaining, but the book is much better even though it’s not a comedy.