The Big Short. Money For Almost Nothing.

big short

Posters for The Big Short proclaim BALE, CARRELL, GOSLING, PITT in shouty, fist-pumping, hyperbolic capitals. Which makes us wonder what the atmosphere was like on set. We’re imagining the boys locker room to end all boys locker rooms.  BALE and GOSLING engaged in a pec-flexing battle of alpha males, silverback PITT sagely observing the young bucks jostling for his crown, whilst nerdy CARELL (does he really deserve the upper case?) has the sense to know his place and sits quietly picking at a scab on his knee. Yes, we came to The Big Short fearing a chest bumping testosterone overload. Were we right?

 

A ‘big short’ is a term for betting against the financial markets, specifically in this case the US housing market, for The Big Short examines how the recent US mortgage crisis and ensuing global economic crisis came to happen. For the purposes of illustration we follow Michael Burry (Christian Bale) an eccentric financial genius and hedge fund manager who spots that the US housing market is sitting on a bubble about to pop. Dismissed by most as a nutjob (mostly due to slobbing around his office in dirty t-shirts and bare feet) his predictions nonetheless attract the attention of several colleagues and fellow financiers who decide to bet against the housing market to make money and beat the banks at their own game.

 

This is not an easy subject. Terms like ‘credit default’ and ‘collateralized  debt’ normally only appear in the business sections everyone skips to get to the footy results. But that’s OK because we’re given lighthearted cameos of celebs appearing as themselves to explain the tricky bits. Although after Margot Robbie in a bathtub explained ‘sub-prime loans’ The Sloth was still confused, but we struggle with long division so that probably says more about us.

 

Filled with deliciously larger than life characters, many are indeed ludicrously macho but director Adam McKay was also responsible for the Anchorman films and his talent for satirical comedy definitely finds a place here, skewering the Wall Street egos. Most importantly, the whole thing rattles along at a riotous pace that is both marvelously entertaining and a distraction from the nagging feeling that you don’t quite understand what is going on. Which arguably is entirely the point.

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Out Of The Furnace. Trouble In Them There Hillbillys.

furnaceWhen was the last time Woody Harrelson played someone normal? You know – basically sentient, able to say ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and get to the end of a sentence unaccompanied by a rolling eyed, maniacal laugh whilst wielding a chainsaw and/or shooting up. Frankly, we can’t remember, but Out Of The Furnace isn’t breaking his nutjob mould anytime soon.

Woody plays the fabulously named Harlan DeGroat. This makes The Sloth imagine a 1920’s philanderer, fond of paisley smoking jackets and blackjack. But no, Harlan is a redneck hillbilly of the meanest, nastiest, most in-bred kind. Harlan masterminds a hillbilly bare knuckle boxing operation, when not beating up his girlfriend or running his primary business, the local crack den.

At the bottom of the hill, back in the real world, live brothers Russell Baze (Christian Bale) and Rodney Baze Jr (Casey Affleck). Older brother Russell, unlike Harlan, is normal. He works hard in the local steel mill, has a girlfriend and is happy with his limited lot. Younger brother Rodney, however, wants more from life. Unable to settle into a regular job he tries a stint in the army which toughens him up and teaches him to fight. Back in civilian life he puts his new skills into action, boxing for an illegal gambling ring. Money comes in, bravado takes over and Rodney pushes his agent to get him a fight with Harlan’s notoriously violent hillbilly boxers. Bad move. The fight is set up and Rodney wins but afterwards disappears without trace, leaving Russell to seek justice.

For all our facetiousness, The Sloth must concede that Woody Harrelson always gives good nutter. Frankly, we were cowering behind our paws. In fact, top marks to the performances all round, particularly to Casey Affleck popping out from Big Brother Ben’s shadow – we don’t see enough of him. If you want a gritty, grimy anecdote to the showboating Oscar contenders swamping the cinemas at the moment, it’s a refreshingly edgy alternative.

UK release 31 January

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American Hustle. The Con Is Glamazon.

hustleEveryone loves a comedy ‘tache. So the moment a virtually unrecognisable Christian Bale swaggers onscreen with paunch, comb-over and luxuriant hairy slug atop his lip, you know American Hustle is onto a winner.

A fictionalisation of true events, American Hustle is based loosely around the ABSCAM scandal of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Involving corruption at the highest levels, it saw members of Congress convicted of accepting bribes in return for political favours.

Our players in this version are con-artist Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his foxily glamorous partner in crime, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). Kindred spirits, their initial business relationship expands into a romantic affair, ignited when they discover a shared talent for hustling money. Unfortunately, their illicit trade attracts the attention of FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper resplendent in tight poodle curls). Richie realises they are the tool he needs to crack a nut of corruption involving casino mob boss Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro) and political fixer Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). And with Irving’s neurotic, unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) still lurking in the background, you have an explosive potboiler waiting to happen.

Cleverly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Yes, it has ‘1970’s Scorsese Mobster Epic’ written all over it, but the tone is tongue-in-cheek homage, not reverential reconstruction. Mr Cooper busts impressively snake hipped moves on a dance floor, winking slyly to Saturday Night Fever. Amy Adams is a Studio 54-esq diva, adopting a faux British accent to impress the naive Yanks and wearing slashed to the naval frocks for breakfast, while Mr Bale’s corpulent belly undertakes a surprise bid for Best Supporting Actor, with copious screen time all to itself (NB The Sloth has it on good authority the notoriously rigorous Mr Bale prepped thoroughly for his role by, erm, eating all the pies. No prosthetics involved, that belly is the genuine article).

Fun, raucous and with just the right amount of 70’s cheese, American Hustle pens a frothy ode to an era of excess, where money, big hair and shiny fabrics talked. Get in the mood with a Screwdriver and blast of Stayin’ Alive, then enjoy.

UK limited release 20 December. General release 3 January.

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