The Big Short

 photo big_short_ver2_zps2a2vcozo.jpg photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgThe Big Short seeks to educate as well as entertain. The subject is the credit crisis of 2008 brought on by the build-up of the housing and credit bubble during the 2000s. In other words, it’s about a group of guys who saw a chance to bet against the risky business loans being offered by American fiscal institutions and profit from it. Are phrases like subprime mortgage, credit default swaps (CDS) and collateralized debt obligation (CDO) part of your everyday vocabulary? Don’t worry because the script has already assumed they’re not and dumbed things down as an irreverent primer on the topic. This breezy tale details a economic armageddon that wildly vacillates between comedic and dramatic extremes. The Big Short is based on the 2010 book of the same name by Michael Lewis. The successful journalist also wrote the books on which Moneyball and The Blind Side were based.

The screenplay focuses on some key people who predicted the bubble would burst and then bet heavily on that conclusion. These speculators believed that the U.S. real estate market was a house of cards. According to this account, “shorting” a financial institution was an unheard of idea at the time. The men that wanted to do this are seen as fools by the mortgage brokers. Their suggestion was greeted with amusement. However the banks were more than happy to oblige them with what they saw as easy money. The concept is still misunderstood by many today, so I’ll give the chronicle points for trying at least. We know how this ends so observing these events is analogous to ancient historical figures laughing at Pythagoras for saying the world is round. We gleefully watch the economy fall apart from a position of smug awareness.

The story highlights a huge number of parts in a dizzying juggling act. This all-star comedy production is built around a collection of crucial players involved. In particular, the saga features 3 main financial experts portrayed by Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling. Bale portrays real life hedge fund manager Michael Burry, walking around barefoot in his office and rocking out to heavy metal music. The other two are fictionalized versions based on speculators Steve Eisman and Greg Lippmann. Brad Pitt also shows up disguised with beard and spectacles. His take on Ben Hockett is more of a glorified cameo. You see the script never develops any depth to any of these people. That’s apparently by design because the account is so desperate to keep moving for fear you might get bored. Steve Carell makes the best impression. Although he must also express anguish for all the millions he earned at the expense of people who lost everything. I didn’t buy that narrative arc, but it’s a random suggestion tacked on at the end. Whether it’s true is kind of irrelevant to the overall story.

The biographical drama madly fluctuates between cheeky comedy and deadly serious reality check. The gimmick is haphazard, almost chaotic, jumping from one scene to the next. The goofy atmosphere isn’t completely obnoxious but it isn’t entirely “winning” either. Director Adam McKay is mostly known for his comedies with Will Ferrell (Anchorman, Talladega Nights) Here he injects a silly sensibility into a dry and depressing subject. There’s a huge menagerie of oddballs, all with speaking parts.  They arbitrarily pop up to clarify what they’re doing in verbose detail so we can conveniently eavesdrop on their conversation. The spoon feeding of information is intense. After a while, the drama is so unrelentingly didactic that the tone becomes wearying.  A lot of facts and figures are thrown at the audience like informational diarrhea. The script does everything but put Margot Robbie in a bubble bath to explain what a “subprime” loan is. Oh wait…they do that too. Ryan Gosling even narrates by talking directly to the camera with a cocky swagger that says “I’m better than you.” But with his unnaturally dyed hair and colorful spray tan, his brash style is more amusingly tragic than intimidating. The irreverent attitude comes across as flippant and self-satisfied when it wants to be charming and humorous. It’s a little off-putting. It’s akin to listening to a lecture by a hip college professor that likes to juice up his lessons about macroeconomics with saucy tales of what he did last night.


21 Responses to “The Big Short”

  1. Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

    Or the adjunct professor I had at PSU who preceded his Spike Lee, High School Movie, Wes Anderson, Coen Brothers, Scorsese, and European Directors classes with tales of his lost youth at Hebrew school and/or his attempts to get laid the night before? Because that sounds fun


  2. The cast is certainly a dream team. However, I’m not in the mood for informational diarrhea. Nice review, Mark.


  3. This is such a strange directorial choice for this material. It’s almost a novelty item to me, I want to see how McKay would balance comedy with drama but by all accounts it doesn’t sound like there’s a whole lot of balancing going on


  4. smilingldsgirl Says:

    I really liked the book but then again I like non-fiction. Lewis writes in a way to make the complicated stuff easy to understand and enjoyable to read. I couldn’t figure out how it would make a good movie though and it sounds like it hasn’t.


    • You might enjoy this more having read the book. I can see where this would make an informative read. A film is a much different animal. You have to make adjustments. It almost felt as if the actors were just reading their lines off the printed page – not even stopping to even take a breath.


  5. misery chick Says:

    ***ADORE***Steve Carell, so I’m definitely IN! Thanks, Mark for this review and for helping me lower my expectations about the balance between comedy/drama.

    Happy Holidays!


  6. “It’s akin to listening to a lecture by a hip college professor that likes to juice up his lessons about macroeconomics with saucy tales of what he did last night.” Haha! I love this!


  7. wow. doesnt sound so great, wont rush to see it, but I’m sure i’ll see it eventually


  8. Loved the film.. Dark Comedy cut with a horrible fact plus a spectacular ensemble cast was a big hit for me. 🙂


  9. I did not get it, I did not like it. Steve Carel was kinda entertaining, but that’s it. 2 stars


  10. The Big Short definitely educates and entertains. I agree that the script doesn’t really develop any depth to its main players, but I actually did believe the arc involving Carell’s character and his anguish about the millions he earned since he was such a hard charging guy who cared about the system. Also agree about the film’s chaotic fluctuations. For me this was an element that didn’t work and actually prevented me from fully understanding a lot of the concepts they were trying to make accessible. If they just slowed down once and a while to let things sink in, the movie might have been more effective. I died when I read your analogy about the college professor spicing up his macro economics lecture. Nice analogy.


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