The Big Short

Posted by Joel Copling on December 22, 2015

"The Big Short" does something incredibly valuable for those, like myself (who had just taken an economics class and didn't really retain much of it in the long run), who were too out of the loop during the U.S. economic recession of 2008 to understand any of it: The film speaks sometimes directly to the audience members in amusing moments of breaking the fourth wall (acts involving some of the characters involved in the investigation of this scheme, as well as an up-and-coming actress, a renowned international chef, a behavioral economist, and a pop star) that serve to clarify the labyrinthine ins-and-outs of the financial infrastructure's complete implosion.

A starry cast helps lend co-writer/director Adam McKay's occasionally surrealistic vision credence and urgency. There is Christian Bale as Michael Burry, a former doctor and current comptroller who notices that the housing market, previously revolutionized by Lewis Ranieri to including mortgages at an adjustable rate, is residing in an enormous bubble that protects the rich and keeps out those less fortunate from refinancing on their loans. His bosses, who are at the whim of Alan Greenspan, deny anything that could be wrong with this market. Bale is quite good in the showiest role here as an awkward loner (He is kept quarantined from many of the other characters) with a glass eye and an aversion to social situations who simply knows that he's right (and is secretly frightened that he isn't).

There is Steve Carell as Mark Baum, a money manager under the formidable blanket of Morgan Stanley who hears rumors of Burry's discovery through the figurative grapevine and rushes off to Miami with employees Danny Moses (Rafe Spall) and Porter Collins (Hamish Linklater). They're there to investigate a housing development more like a ghost town but find that strippers are being cheated on their loans (Some of them have more than one on multiple houses and condominiums) and the mortgage brokers responsible (here, two of them, played by Max Greenfield and Billy Magnussen) have no real clue what they are doing while targeting immigrants to do it. Carell is excellent here, especially in scenes where Mark must confront (or avoid) his grief and sense of terrible guilt over a brother who committed suicide because of finances.

There is Ryan Gosling as Jared Venett, a slick trader for Deutsche Bank on whom Mark leans for inside information, and Brad Pitt as Ben Rickert, former head of Scion Capital (where Burry currently works), who now lives in secrecy and the fear of constant, Big Brother-esque surveillance of his activities. Gosling isn't given a whole lot to do as Jared, but he's solid as someone who outwardly admits by the end that he isn't a hero of this story. Pitt excels as Ben, who is hired by analysts named Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) to help them retaliate against the banks. There is a gripping montage, set at a Las Vegas casino that holds a conference featuring bankers, tellers, and financial executives, that features a bitter pill as its punch line.

The screenplay by McKay and Charles Randolph (based on Michael Lewis' nonfiction account of the same name) is an outraged one, naming names and pointing fingers in a fashion as blunt as it is forthright in its intentions (and the coda, which offers the fates of the real-life counterparts to the narrative telling, is enough to raise one's blood pressure even further). Hank Corwin's editing, in conjunction with a particularly complex sound design and Barry Ackroyd's ADD photography, is disorienting, weaving in and out of sequences and tonal balance with absurdist ease. The thesis is clear and concise: The banks are the ones directly responsible for this crisis, whether through intentional fraud, rampant stupidity, or a dangerous combination of the two. "The Big Short" is a polemic in the best sense.

Film Information

Christian Bale (Michael Burry), Steve Carell (Mark Baum), Finn Wittrock (Jamie Shipley), John Magaro (Charlie Geller), Ryan Gosling (Jared Venett), Max Greenfield (Mortgage Broker #1), Billy Magnussen (Mortgage Broker #2), Rafe Spall (Danny Moses), Hamish Linklater (Porter Collins), Brad Pitt (Ben Rickert), Marisa Tomei (Cynthia Baum), Melissa Leo (Georgia Hale), Adepero Oduye (Georgia Hale).

Directed by Adam McKay and written by McKay and Charles Randolph, based on the book by Michael Lewis.

Rated R (pervasive language, sexuality/nudity).

130 minutes.

Released in select cities on December 11, 2015.