The Big Short

Director: Adam McKay (2016)

Take cover from an atomic bomb of fraud and stupidity in this knockabout drama based on the catastrophic financial crash of 2008.

Based on Michael Lewis’s account published as The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (pub. 2010) it’s been nominated for five Oscars including best film, best director and best actor for Christian Bale.

Ryan Gosling plays narrator Jared Vennett, an unrepentant bond salesman at Deutsche Bank.

Vennett meets the one-eyed Aspergers sufferer Michael Burry. Played by Bale in a bad haircut,  he’s a maverick hedge fund manager.

Burry’s discovered Wall Street has been selling mortgages to people with no jobs or income.

So he’s ‘shorting’ the housing market, i.e. betting it will crash and anticipates making billions of dollars by betting millions.

Vennett teams up with Steve Carell‘s permanently angry banker Mark Baum to get rich quick.

Yet no-one seems to have fun with the money they’re making or have any idea what to do with it, or even why they’re doing it.

The script wants us to like these guys, showing us their life traumas to garner sympathy.

They’re fictitious versions of real people and we’re encouraged to see them as heroic outsiders, uncovering the impending crisis.

But they willingly keep schtum and treat it as another investment opportunity.

Then the film’s millionaire movie producer Brad Pitt turns up looking like a retired geography teacher and flexing his social conscience, much like he did in his self-produced project 12 Years A Slave (2014).

Pitt plays another banker who makes a min out of the misery of millions..

Financial flicks Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street (2014) and J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call (2013) have already covered much the same ground as The Big Short.

This hasn’t the blistering riotousness and moral vigour of the former in which Margot Robbie also appeared, and lacks the sober cynicism of the latter.

It’s all very Scorsese light with an up tempo pace and jokey tone created by pop tunes, freeze frames, frantic editing and characters regularly speaking directly to camera.

Plus it’s full of great performances, very energetic and niftily employs a game of jenga to explain what causes the banking meltdown.

But it’s misjudged in its sympathies and patronisingly employs Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez as themselves to explain the maths.

But The Big Short fails to condemn these hypocritical parasites – the bankers not the actresses – and instead dresses them as heroes.

They should be strung up from lamp posts with the rest of the bankers responsible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Hustle

Director: David O. Russell (2014)

This brilliantly acted sleazy and greasy 1970s caper crackles with sexual tension like a cheap nylon suit.

The stellar cast consisting of three Oscar winners (Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro) and three nominees (Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams) is on excellent form in this slick, funny and dynamic crime comedy.

The fine performances combine with aggressive camera work, expert editing, a brilliant soundtrack and freaky 1970’s fashions to amp up an electric atmosphere ever higher.

Bale has rarely had so much fun with a role. He plays the balding, bearded, paunchy Irving Rosenfeld, a conman way out of his depth trapped between the mob and the FBI.

Rosenfeld and his mistress and partner in crime Sydney Prosser (Adams) are arrested by FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper) and compelled to assist him in cleaning up corruption in the new Atlantic City casino development.

The investigation expands to include expensive hotel suites, video surveillance, $2million in a suitcase and a Mexican who is posing as a fake sheikh.

The operation is threatened by Rosenfeld’s loose-lipped, loose-cannon of a wife Rosalyn – a dynamite performance by Lawrence.

They target passionate Carmine Polito (Renner), a corrupt mayor who is plagued by divided loyalties.

Russell even manages to squeeze a decent performance out of Robert DeNiro – something we haven’t seen for while.

Every character is forced to manipulate, lie, cheat and re-invent themselves as allegiances shift and con is built upon con but it’s not really interested in the plot as much as enjoying throwing the characters together and twisting the audience around it’s finger.

Deep down it’s also a critique of the film industry and of society’s cynical surrender to the power of capitalism – but don’t let that stop your enjoying the relentless ride as the toe-curling tension increases.

The scam continues to the very last line of the film.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Director: Ridley Scott (2014)

Striding into cinemas on a mission from God, Exodus is a handsome and monumental retelling of the Moses bible story.

Ridley Scott combines typically impressive design with spectacular action and even makes a couple of successful stabs at humour.

But he fails to broaden our understanding of events . Remaining true to the spirit of the story he fails to put an interesting spin on it. There is, of course, the parting of the Red Sea and the carving of the Ten Commandments.

Surprisingly for the director who gave cinema Ellen Ripley, G.I. Jane and Thelma and Louise, Scott provides no memorable female characters.

Although Indira Varma as a High Priestess makes an impression, Sigourney Weaver appears briefly and to no great effect as as Ramses’ mother Tuya. Love interest Zipporah (Maria Valverde) is forgettable. Even Scott’s recent and deservedly maligned Prometheus gave us two entertaining female roles.

In a nothing role Aaron Paul continues to cash in on his Breaking Bad kudos – but the likeable actor needs to start banking decent roles soon.

Egyptian general Moses (Christian Bale) is troubled when told he is the son of a Hebrew slave. His foster brother King Ramses II (Joel Edgerton) sees him as a threat and casts him into the wilderness

God appears to Moses in the controversial guise of a haughty and petulant youth – a confident and spine-tingling performance by Isaac Andrews.

He tells Moses to return to Egypt and free the chosen people but the prince-turned-prophet takes his time about it. So in the movie’s stand-out sequence, God lets loose a terrifying series of plagues including crocodiles, frogs, boils, flies and locusts.

All the children of Egypt are killed, including Ramses’ own son, and he orders the Hebrews to flee. But he chases them and they end up trapped between the sea and his bloodthirsty army.

Bale, with his usual intensity, successfully turns from sceptical young warrior to devout old leader – though his wildly changing circumstances barely phase him.

He’s not even surprised when he is unexpectedly introduced to his adult brother Aaron (Andrew Tarbet) for the first time.