If we accept the proposition that having money is sexy, we should also be able to admit that the most aggressive ways of making lots of money — the banking schemes and strategies that compound the wealth of the already rich — are not. Are they unfair to the working class? Certainly. Possibly criminal? Sure. But sexy, no. Among the more nefarious activities known to capitalism, big investing is particularly dry.
In “The Big Short,” a 2015 fictionalized account of the mid-aughts mortgage-market collapse, the director Adam McKay attempted to skirt this dynamic by having attractive performers including Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez explain the details of market manipulation. In the new documentary “Apes Together Strong,” the filmmakers (and twin brothers) Finley Mulligan and Quinn Mulligan, working with a microbudget and no access to movie stars, detail how to short-sell a stock with a rough-hewed sketch involving a bag of sugar that is borrowed, sold and re-bought at a profit — or not.
The title of the movie is the motto of the talking simians in the latter-day “Planet of the Apes” film franchise; it was adopted by the retail investors who led the GameStop “short squeeze” of 2021. At that time, small investors succeeded in significantly raising the price of stock in GameStop, a store chain targeted by hedge funds for market assassination.
In a fast-paced style derived from Michael Moore or Morgen Spurlock, the Mulligans interview retail-investor comrades and banking pros sympathetic to the small investors’ cause. The villains, both past and present — the Reagan White House with its push to deregulate banking; big finance honchos; hedge fund vultures — are seen in archival footage, mostly.
The lessons here are old, and at one point, the filmmakers use the phrase “the house always wins.” But there’s hope, because there’s always hope in such tales. While Dennis M. Kelleher, the chief executive of the nonprofit investor’s advocacy group Better Markets, says, “Wall Street wins largely because they are unopposed,” the movie closes on a rallying cry.
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