Reel Estate

Want to really understand the late-aughts housing meltdown? See 'The Big Short'

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It might feel like ancient history now, in these inventory-short, market-hectic times in NYC real estate. But in the late 2000s, the market—ours included—was at a standstill, brought to its knees by the colossal popping of a housing bubble created, in part, by loose lending practices, speculation, banking products built around questionable loans, and lack of oversight. 

For this week's Reel Estate, we're skipping the usual critique of interiors of cinematic apartments and looking instead at a film that captures the madness that is the 2009 housing meltdown—or, rather, the madness (and, perhaps, selective blindness) that led to the bust. 

Based on a book of the same name by writer Michael Lewis (who also penned Moneyball), The Big Short tells the story of a small group of analysts, bankers, and investors who saw the runaway train that was the housing market barreling from miles away, long before it careened into the station and left dazed homeowners and borrowers gasping in its wake.

Much of the action in the film takes place outdoors in the city, marked by visual signposts like CVS stores, Wall Street buildings, and taxicabs—no sign of Uber yet—and indoors ostensibly at banking offices like Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs. (There's also one lengthy, bacchanalic section that takes place in Las Vegas, and a scene—a poignant one though the real estate nearly distracted from it—where one character appears to be on a penthouse terrace overlooking NYC.)

Bad late aughts hairdos and clothing aside (honestly, they read more like circa-1980s to us), it all feels fairly authentic and sadly familiar and, yes, enraging, reminding us of the real estate excesses that led to the meltdown. It all ends on a sobering note, too, that makes us wonder if it can happen again. 

Go see it, but for now, see the trailer below:


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