THE BIG SHORT
DIRECTOR: Adam McKay
RELEASE DATE: 12/23/2015
STARRING: Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell,
Christian Bale, Finn Wittrock, John Magaro, and
During the aftermath of the financial meltdown that took place during 2008, I watched an interview with Matt Taibbi on CNN (or MSNBC… one of those news channels) in which he attempted to explain the fraudulent and reckless practices that led to the crash. I recall thinking, “I have no idea what the hell he’s talking about” and to this day, I’m still really not sure what happened.
The Big Short takes place right before the lead up to the housing crisis and follows 4 people who saw the red flags and decided to invest against the banks. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is a introverted genius investor who has carte blanche to move his firm’s money wherever he wants and is one of the first people to notice the banking bubble. Mark Baum (Steve Carell) is a loudmouthed hedge fund manager who gets coerced into investing against the banks by Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), a cocky young banker playing against his own company. Lastly, Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) is a retired Wall Streeter who teams up with two young investors who happen to stumble upon news of the impending meltdown.
The Big Short is writer Michael Lewis’ (Moneyball and The Blind Side) newest work to make its way to the big screen and the first real drama directed by Adam McKay (Anchorman and Step Brothers). Lewis’ writing style is absolutely apparent while watching the film, but what isn’t so clear is McKay’s direction. The Big Short is a major departure for the comedic director and it doesn’t resemble any of his other films. Take Martin Scorsese (especially The Wolf of Wall Street), The Office, and pepper them with images of Americana circa 2007 and you’d be somewhere in the wheelhouse of McKay’s finalize vision of this movie.
The key issue for me was how they handled such a complex (and boring) topic, the housing bubble. McKay was able to inject a good amount of humor into the film’s subject matter and make it understandable… mostly. One technique often used throughout the film were these very meta cutaways to real life celebrities explaining complicated terminology in a dumbed down way. So you’d get the lovely Margot Robbie in a bubble bath breaking down subprime mortgages while sipping on champagne. While these moments were fun and somewhat enlightening, I still felt a lot of other content was lost on me.
The cast of The Big Short was impressive and the performances were all solid, with Christian Bale’s role of Michael Bury being the stand out. Burry was intriguing and weird enough to make me wish they’d spent more time with him, perhaps cutting out Ben Rickert in order to achieve that goal. Brad Pitt’s acting was fine, but Rickert felt like he could have been played by anyone and his storyline, including the two investors working with him, wasn’t that interesting. The most relatable character was Mark Baum, who while being somewhat douchey at times, still managed to show a little more compassion than the others towards the victims of the housing crisis. Baun’s internal struggles with his brothers suicide didn’t really help with the narrative and felt out of place, instead I could have used more moments like his final speech, which Steve Carell nailed.
The film’s themes of American greed and failed capitalist ideas are beaten over your head, but in a playful way that makes them less exhausting. However, The Big Short still manages to make sense of a very convoluted institution, that honestly is built like that for a good reason. The insight you’ll gain from the experience is worth it and you’ll be entertained while receiving your lesson.