First Hit: This film amazingly and with clarity explains how trusted financial bankers and Wall Street traders used their greed and arrogance to create a mortgage system that collapsed and ruined the lives of 10’s of thousands of people.
The impact of the mortgage credit bubble bursting in the mid-2000s affected thousands upon thousands of people. Not since the 1929 crash had so many families lost their homes, their jobs, and ended up on the street. Why?
Because Wall Street bankers and others running hedge funds thought they were smarter than everyone else and deserved to make as much money as they could at the expense of other people. The sad part was that these guys either; never thought about how it might hurt others, or they didn’t care about anything or anybody else except themselves.
There is something amazingly depressing about our society that promotes ways for people to act in the way they did. To teach us about this complex situation, Charles Randolph and Adam McKay wrote a quirky and intelligent script based on true characters and fact while using various ways to tell the story.
They used odd vignettes with Selena Gomez and Margo Robbie playing themselves and had them share fun examples of how the scheme worked. Director McKay also had one character as a narrator allowing him to break the fourth plane and speak to the audience directly, then drop right back into his character. All this added to the quirkiness of this film.
In the story Christian Bale played the extremely intelligent Michael Burry who predicted the fall of the market. This highly focused numbers guy read and analyzed each loan in many of the packaged loan portfolio bundles and saw how their high rating belied the loans within them.
There was Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), a big bank trader who knew the banks were packing high risk and junk loans with good ones to hide their risk. He wanted to find a company that would allow him to bet against his own company. He also narrated from time to time. Mark Baum (Steve Carell) a trader who felt that there was a lack of integrity by most of the people in the world. He was always railing against society and how it rips people off. He and his team did their research by going to Florida and talked with the people who owned or rented the homes that were in these portfolios.
For example; when he learned that a female stripper owned 4 homes and a condo and didn’t make any down payments in purchasing them, he was convinced. Then there is Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittlock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) who accidentally picked up a prospectus while being turned down by Citi-Bank to trade on their floor. Reading the prospectus their interest was sparked and they dug deeper.
After seeing the numbers, they asked their friend and retired famed trader Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) what he thought. These four groups (and their people) ended up being right. They bet the market would fail, it did, and they made a ton of money. I didn't get the sense they felt good about it because they knew people were going to lose their homes, banks were going to fail, and that the federal government (read this as taxpayers) would bail out the the arrogant bankers and their companies. To add insult to injury, these bankers took their annual yearly bonuses, and the banking laws changed little.
Carell was manic in a good way. He embodied many people’s sense of outrage at how people take advantage of others and don’t care. His unfiltered way of interacting with people is what many want to be like. Gosling was smooth in transitioning from a character in the film and also the narrator. Bale was almost uncomfortably quirky in his amazing portrayal of a disconnected numbers genius. He sold me on his character’s solid belief that he knew what and when the bust would happen. It was amazing when he walked out of the office one last time and posted his company’s % gain. Wittlock and Magro were perfect as the small time fund managers, who were making great trades and wanting to play with the big banks. Their bright enthusiasm and commitment was spot on. Pitt was interesting in his role as a transformed trader that wanted to help his friends. Randolph and McKay wrote an outstanding script by making this complex issue understandable. McKay’s direction worked and made this into a top notch film.
Overall: I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about how our financial system failed and was left with some fear that it may happen again if we don’t watch ourselves.