In the end, they finally lost me. I understood the basics of course: the American housing bubble finally burst, taking down the livelihoods and futures of millions of people and leaving the bankers wealthy in their greed; but I missed a lot of nuance. And that left me confused, frustrated, a bit angry with the movie. If you understand sub-prime mortgages, CDO’s, and the intricacies of making money by selling short, this is a movie you may find endlessly fascinating. I found it only sporadically entertaining, trying to find a balance between entertainment, education – and infuriation. Once it lost me – somewhere along the way – I just found it to be long. I was paying attention as closely as I could and, in the beginning, the director Adam McKay went overboard to explain things as clearly as possible. He used words on the screen, an analogy of a blackjack game in Las Vegas, uber-chef Anthony Bourdain making a stew with two-day old fish, and Margot Robbie in a bubble bath drinking champagne.
Yeah, pretty bizarre stuff, but this whole movie is quirky, weird and wacky. McKay cuts arbitrarily to fruit stands in the city, hamburger commercials, books on a shelf, clips from music videos. It’s like he’s filling up the background, creating some atmosphere, adding energy and interest to a basic story, but there are way too many characters, way too many locations, way too much use of nudity and the f-word, way too much lingo and jargon that assumes the audience can somehow follow along. There are funny moments, but this is a generally angry movie that is often fragmented, jumpy and slow. The story is, of course, an important one. When the mortgages fell apart, the bonds fell apart, people’s investments (and lives) fell apart, the big banks fell apart, the economy fell apart… And the scariest part is, it looks like banks are now doing the same thing all over again. They’ve reinvented and renamed the shaky financial instruments they once called CDOs – and are selling them once again. I just wish I understood all of that much better.