The Big Short – Movie Review

The Big ShortThe Big Short – R
Release Date: Wed 23 Dec 2015

The Big Short is a biographical drama about the 2008 housing market crash shown through the eyes of several investors who predicted and bet against – or “shorted” – housing bonds.

Adam McKay directs a large ensemble cast made up of a few separate investing factions. First there’s Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) who is the first to see the signs of the coming collapse and predict a Q2 2007 crash. He goes against the wishes of his partners and has the banks create a product that has not existed before, a means by which to bet against a housing bond.

There’s Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), a broker who has also figured out the problem but needs to convince outside investors to work with him as the bet is essentially against his own employer. The group of investors he convinces is a small four-man group led by Mark Baum (Steve Carell), an outraged man who sees the greed and the eventual burden that will be borne not by Wall Street, but by taxpayers.

Finally there is a micro-firm run by partners Charlie Geller (John Margo) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) who stumble across the finding but need the help of established trader Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to get their foot in the door to invest their money into shorting the housing bonds.

There are a lot of great actors here, each with precious little time to make an impression. Where the movie initially seems as though it will mostly be narrated by Gosling’s character, several characters will outright break the fourth wall and explain to the audience that what they’re watching is somewhat dramatized. To paraphrase – “we actually found this out in a much less exciting way, but hey, you’re watching a movie.” And if something needs more explanation, we cut to a celebrity cameo to deliver an extended metaphor or, in the case of Margot Robbie, we just get your attention by showing a woman talking in a bubble bath.

The Big Short seems certain that if it doesn’t keep throwing frenetic action at the screen, cutting to cameos or focusing on Steve Carell’s “rude guy with a heart of gold” character that the audience will either become lost or bored with what’s going on. Instead, it manages to make us root for these men who bet against the economy who got rich off the greedy bankers. All as it’s explaining that taxpaying American workers paid for these mistakes, not the banks.

The Big Short is a departure of McKay who is best known for writing and directing comedies, many in partnership with Will Ferrell. The two also co-founded the video-based humor website FunnyOrDie.com and at times, The Big Short feels like a really elaborate FoD sketch. It manages to stay entertaining up until the last thirty minutes or so which feel like dragging out the foregone conclusion.

While I would have preferred either a better adapted comedy about this story akin to The Wolf of Wall Street or a straight up documentary, The Big Short is an entertaining experiment that splits the difference. It’s more disposable than I wanted it to be and I can’t see wanting to watch it again or recommend it as a way to better understand what went wrong leading up to the 2008 meltdown.

Aaron and I saw it in the theater and had a discussion in the car:

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