The Christmas season has come and gone, and since we are now officially in the movie dead zone, I thought I would recommend to you several excellent movies that came out during the Holiday season but which you may have missed due to the Star Wars blitz.
The first of these involves an all star cast (Pitt, Gosling, Carell, Tomei, and Bale, among others) and a creative technique to the story telling (e.g. sometimes the cast goes out of character and turns and directly addresses the audience). Furthermore, the story, sadly enough is a true story about fraud, greed, graft, and corruption, not to mention lying on Wall Street and by big banks— imagine that.
The story is played for laughs, and there was plenty of laughs by the audience for two hours and ten minutes when I saw it, but there should have been nothing but boos and weeping. ‘Shorting’ is the practice of making money off of misery, by betting against the integrity of the American financial system, in this case against sub-prime mortgages supposedly backed by the ‘full faith and credit’ of our banks. The essence of the swindle has to do with giving people loans who have no prospect of paying them off, or for that matter paying their monthlies for very long at all. And it was not just brokers, and banks, and credit unions in on the swindle. It also involved the loan rating system Standard and Poors, and frankly even the U.S. government which did not properly regulate the system and provide checks and balances so that the crash of 2008 wouldn’t happen, and lots of people would not lose their savings, their homes, their jobs, and their minds.
The story is told from the angle of those few investors that figured out that sheer fraud was going on in the mortgage loan system and decided to buy ‘swaps’ betting against the system, betting that the system and those loans would almost entirely go into default. In essence, they made millions betting against the American economy and its economic engine. One of the focal figures who figured out what was happening well in advance was a Dr. Burry, who was a medical doctor who was in the investing business for a investment company. As it turns out, he figured it out well before the crash during the early stages of W’s second term as President.
This movie gave me a colossal headache, quite literally, and made me sick. It exposes the dark underbelly of American capitalism’s whole system of ‘make money at any cost for oneself’ and to blazes with ethics, or the public good or integrity. It revealed how we have left the fox to guard the hen house, and the sad fact is….. only one of those fraudsters went to jail and no major reforms have been forthcoming to the system. People can still get sub-prime loans with lousy credit. It’s disgraceful, but as the movie says at one point ‘truth is like poetry, and the American public generally hates poetry’. This movie tells the truth— and it ain’t funny despite the rather amazing display of acting skill and irony injected into this film.