Mortgage crisis films reflect the spirit of the times

by MPA16 Dec 2015
As a medium that focuses on conflict and resolution, films often reflect ongoing societal challenges. Just as the Cold War of the mid- and late 20th century has seen the flowering of political thrillers and spy movies, the recent housing crisis has spun off at least two films – 99 Homes and The Big Short – that provide varied, accessible, and incisive looks at real estate, mortgages, and economics.
99 Homes (directed by Ramin Bahrani) narrates the struggles of hard-up single father Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) who, after getting evicted from his and his family’s foreclosed home, finds work as a hatchet man for a cold-hearted real estate operator (Michael Shannon).
Nash eventually ends up unscrupulously manipulating laws and bank regulations to evict financially struggling homeowners, culminating in the delivery of a forged document to court. Through the lens of bank-enforced evictions and Nash’s machinations, the film offers a stark illustration of the fraud and privation that people have experienced as a consequence of the housing crisis.
Meanwhile, The Big Short (directed by Adam McKay) is a comedic and absurdist take on the financial crisis of 2007-2010, precipitated by the housing and credit bubble. Based on a 2010 book by Michael Lewis, the film tells the story of several key figures who profited from the crisis by establishing the credit default swap market.
The Big Short’s set pieces revolve around heated exchanges between the main characters (Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt), discussing everything from fraud to greed and pinning the responsibility for the crisis to a widespread unwillingness to apportion blame. The film illustrates the ways investors and bankers maintain their bottom lines by cheating people of their money through irresistible loans and packages.
Both stories vividly show that the consummate survivors in these straitened times are those who take the time to read the fine print, never affixing their signatures unless they’re absolutely certain. Writing for Consequence of Sound, Blake Goble noted that these films might also mark the beginnings of a genre where the intricacies of economics become readily comprehensible to a lay audience, and where ruthless and dishonest finance industry players are the new go-to villains.


Should CFPB have more supervision over credit agencies?