Directed by Adam McKay, written by Charles Randolph, and starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt.
The Big Short follows four outsiders in the world of high-finance who predict the mid-2000’s mortgage housing crisis years before it happens, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight.
If there’s one thing I can appreciate about a film, it’s when it concerns a subject in which I have next to no interest, presented in a way that keeps me interested. Films like Moneyball, the 2011 Oscar-nominated movie that could keep even the sourest of non-baseball enthusiasts glued to the screen (myself included), keep me confident that the industry is filled with innovators who aren’t afraid to take on a story despite the nature of its content.
Such is the case for The Big Short, the latest film from Anchorman director Adam McKay. It features three separate, but parallel stories, the first of which starts in 2005 with hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale), who discovers that the U.S. housing market is built on a bubble that’s set to burst within a few years. He decides to bet against the housing market with the banks, who all think he’s out of his mind since they don’t know of the upcoming crash. Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), an investor at Deutschebank, catches wind of Burry’s scheme and plans to capitalize on it himself, joining forces with Mark Baum (Steve Carell), an idealist who’s had enough of the corruption within the financial industry. Two young men running a thirty-million-dollar startup company (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock) find evidence of the same scheme and want in on the action, but need the help of retired investment banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt, also producing) to gain the necessary clout to “play in the big leagues.”
To the financially inclined, it’s absolutely scintillating stuff right off the bat, but everyone else may be a little apprehensive considering the film’s 130-minute runtime. Fortunately, it stays very entertaining thanks to a well thought out, properly paced plot that deftly moves between the three main perspectives. Bale, almost always alone in his scenes, plays the role of eccentric, socially awkward Michael with ease. Carell and Gosling are the ones with the most screen time. The former proves that Foxcatcher was not a fluke and shows us a serious and emotional character in Mark, and the latter does the same on the opposite end of the spectrum, cracking clever jokes and constantly breaking the fourth wall to blend the plot with McKay’s great sense of comedic timing. The financial jargon present throughout the film, the insidious actions from the major American banks, and their role in the recession are explained in a creative way to keep the audience ahead of the curve; it’s pretty humorous and hasn’t been a part of the film’s marketing, so I won’t spoil it here, but you’ll know it when you see it.
Afterwards, there’s a moment where things get real for the main characters; as we get closer and closer to this major economic downturn, the tone of the film veers sideways and they all start to think about the consequences, both short and long-term. This is where Charles Randolph’s script and McKay’s direction both shine. It’s very interesting to see this moment as it happens. We all know it’s coming, like anticipating a drop at the end of a roller coaster, but that doesn’t dilute its intensity. Because the plot is still moving between several stories, but these moments of clarity are happening at close to the same time, we get to see the perspective split between these main characters, who are all affected but under different circumstances. My only gripe is with the camera work; the documentary-style shots and awkward close-ups didn’t work for me, and took me out of the story a bit.
Despite this issue, The Big Short is simultaneously funny, engaging, and emotionally infuriating, presenting a frightening depiction of the current state of America in a much more accessible way. After I left the theatre, I immediately wanted to do research into the mortgage crisis, come back, and watch the movie again from a more educated angle not only because the subject is communicated very well, but also because it was that good to watch. Multiple viewings are definitely recommended.