The Big Short

A naked Margot Robbie always makes subprime mortgage talk fascinating. Academy Award winners Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei and Academy Award nominees Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell star in The Big Short.

The Big ShortCast of Characters:
Dr. Michael Burry – Christian Bale
Mark Baum – Steve Carell
Jared Vennett – Ryan Gosling
Ben Rickert – Brad Pitt
Georgia Hale – Melissa Leo
Porter Collins – Hamish Linklater
Charlie Geller – John Magaro
Danny Moses – Rafe Spall
Vinny Daniel – Jeremy Strong
Jamie Shipley – Finn Wittrock
Cynthia Baum – Marisa Tomei

Director – Adam McKay
Screenplay – Charles Randolph & Adam McKay
Based on the book The Big Short by Michael Lewis
Producer – Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner & Armon Milchan
Rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity

In 2005, ex-neurologist turned hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is the first to notice something’s a little rotten in Denmark with the housing market. After going over the past couple years of mortgage lending practices, he predicts that a housing bubble would go “Boom!’ by sometime around 2007. Though his superiors scoff at his analysis and assure him that the housing market is rock solid, Burry takes action and shorts the market by buying credit default swaps against subprime deals he sees as weak.

It isn’t long after that others in the business, among them Deutsche Bank trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell), begin to see exactly what Burry’s seeing, and that’s when the mortgage lender’s ignorance becomes their great gain.

Based on Moneyball author Michael Lewis’s book of the same name, The Big Short takes on the housing and credit bubble that would blow up into the financial crisis of 2007-2010 and dresses it up in satirical style a la Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. This film, however, though boasting a similarly talented cast, doesn’t have Scorsese at the helm, but Adam McKay.

Yes, the director of Will Ferrell’s Step Brothers, The Other Guys, Talladega Nights and both Anchorman films.

Talking about numbers, percentages, rates, and terms like subprime mortgage, credit default swap and collateralized debt obligation sounds like snooze-fest to the average moviegoer. Not everyone’s involved in the stock market, real estate or is an OCD freak about numbers like I am (I have an infatuation with the even ones). Yet McKay and his co-writer Charles Randolph shrink it all down into a slick, stylish and smartly funny version of “Housing Market for Dummies”. Don’t know what all the economic gobbledygook just mentioned means? Don’t worry ’cause Selena Gomez, Anthony Bourdain and a naked, bubble-bath bathing Margot Robbie are gonna explain it for us in a way we all can understand.

I honestly don’t remember a single word Miss Robbie said.

It’s understandable if viewers are put off by the fourth-wall breaking techniques McKay employs throughout the film. For sure, it’s a ballsy move, but it’s one that I feel works. For being known as an SNL writer and Will Ferrell’s go-to director for most, if not all, of his career, McKay handles a hefty, sometimes devastating topic with great confidence and respect as he guides us through the crisis at a snappy pace. Even at just a little over 2-hour run time, you don’t feel the film’s length, which is both a pro and just a tad bit of a con in the way that, yes, this film by no means lags, but as quick as the film moves in and around all the key players, some viewers may get lost in a few areas (just ’cause McKay and Randolph make the subject matter widely accessible doesn’t mean you can kick back and no longer pay attention).

The cast is as first-rate as they come, led by Christian Bale giving us another reminder as to why he’s one of the best working actors we have today. As Michael Burry, a genius with an inability to connect with others, Bale’s performance isn’t anywhere as intense as what we’re used to seeing him – and it doesn’t have to be – but it’s still just as remarkable in the way he captures Burry’s social awkwardness and of all his little quirks and mannerisms (the real-life Burry has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrom).

Ryan Gosling is scene-stealing perfection as the slick and smart Jared Vennett, the bank trader who’s looking to capitalize the most on the housing market’s ineptitude. Brad Pitt turns in strong, understated work as an out of the game financial guru who’s pulled back in two help two young, eager-beaver traders. Steve Carell proves his Oscar-nominated turn in Foxcatcher was no fluke and further solidifies his standing as a go-to dramatic actor. His performance is good enough to compensate my main gripe with the film, a side-story of his involving a personal tragedy that’s meant to justify his anger and humanize him, but isn’t fleshed-out enough and feels disconnected to what should be the film’s main focus.

The big winner here, though, is Adam McKay. I mean, who here was really surprised that Bale, Gosling and Pitt would turn in strong performances? Even Carell has proven what dramatic range he has in Foxcatcher and, to a lesser, more comedic extent, in Little Miss Sunshine. This is new territory for McKay, and it requires him to handle tricky waters in balancing tone, style and heavy subject matter, a daunting task for even a filmmaker with more experience in this genre. Needless to say, McKay succeeds (certainly much more here than his head-scratching choice to switch to Dateline NBC level detail on the housing crisis in The Other Guys), and shows he has more tools in his filmmaking toolbox than all those previous dopey comedies have ever indicated.

So job well done, McKay.

As enlightening as it is entertaining, and as funny as it is sobering, The Big Short takes a headache-inducing subject of numbers and percentages and decorates it in enough style and layman’s terms to be accessible to average moviegoers. Though some may get lost during a scene or two due to the quick pace, the attention-commanding form of its four A-list leads and a revelatory directorial effort from broad comedy auteur Adam McKay work together to form one of the more stylishly entertaining films of the year.

I give The Big Short an A- (★★★½).

One thought on “The Big Short

  1. I noticed a name among all those heavy hitters that caught my attention, Finn Wittrock who was great in Freak Show (American Horror) hope to see more of his name in future films. Your review makes me want to see this movie for sure. T. M .

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