Monday, January 4, 2016

Spotlight and The Big Short

Continuing the year-end movie jag, we took in Spotlight and The Big Short last week and weekend. It was so appropriate that we saw them at the end of the year because they may have been the best two pics of 2015.

Spotlight featured fine performances by Michael Keaton as the Boston-Irish-bred chief of the Globe's investigative team and Mark Ruffalo as his star reporter, along with Liev Schreiber as the paper's new editor-in-chief. Aside from Keaton, is magnificent, I found the less-renowned players perfect--all the guys Keaton's character grew up with and who are now pressuring him to go easy on his target: the Catholic Church in Boston with its history of protecting pedophile priests and scorning the interest of survivors of child abuse.

The major triumph of this film is how it captures the atmosphere in Boston where everyone knows something about what's going on but no one really is doing much. Stanley Tucci does a great job playing an Armenian lawyer who is taking on the Church and is skeptical that the Globe will really come through on a story it has previously buried.

The moment I loved in that it showed that the filmakers understood the environment was where Robby, Keaton's character, ends his meeting in a bar with one of the powerful Catholic laymen and they toast, saying "For Boston!" As they both went to Boston College High School. this toast is of course the first line of the Boston College fight song.

Much has been said about how The Big Short manages to make clear the complex machinations of Wall Streeters who securitized subprime mortgages and eventually caused a housing bubble that led right into the Great Recession of 2008, from which we are only now beginning to emerge.

Some have pointed to the statements at the end observing how nothing serious has been done to reform  this world so that the same thing couldn't happen again and some others have claimed that the principals in the movie--the few who sensed that this was a collapse waiting to happen and invested accordingly--profited from the misery of the thousands who lost their homes and whose lives were ruined.

I felt that the picture showed how these skeptics had to battle their own organizations to bet against the powers-that-be--the big banks--who were making money hand over fist from the fraud they were inspiring.  Steve Carell gave the performance of his career thus far as one of the principal investors questioning the status quo.

The picture's most sterling achievement was capturing the giddy atmosphere of the financial world, especially in the characters of two real estate guys in Florida who glory in the fakery in which they are ensnarled, and then too in the two young men just breaking into the business who have figured out what most more experienced types have not.

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