It’s difficult to tell if “The Big Short” seeks to entertain, educate, or insult an audience. Director/writer Adam McKay’s take on the Michael Lewis (he of “Moneyball” fame) book moves at a breakneck pace, throws information at you like high and tight fastballs, but at times, cannot help itself and satire quickly devolves to pander.
Is it clever to throw in random celebrities like Anthony Bourdain or Selena Gomez to explain financial securities? Initially, it’s amusing. But if one were to really think about it, it’s almost as if McKay doesn’t think the general movie going public can comprehend what’s happening and the only way to get through to you is via pretty people explaining all those pesky big words.
Fortunately, the majority of “The Big Short” is fantastic. This is mostly due to a cast of actors that dive into their roles with reckless abandon. The characters are extensive, but McKay manages to keep everything moving forward with nary a dull moment. Considering the subject matter, that is an impressive feat.
The amount of gray area in “The Big Short” is staggering. Who are the villains that brought on the housing market collapse and caused the entire global economy to fall to pieces? It’s not Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a hedge fund manager with severe social disorder and a glass eye. Burry got the ball rolling on investors betting against the housing market when he realized that thousands of mortgages were destined to fail and default.
Rumors begin to swirl and a handful of people jump into the morally bankrupt practice of shorting the housing market. Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) shops this idea around to several hedge fund managers, only striking gold with Mark Baum (Steve Carell). Baum, who manages a small investment team, jumps in, albeit with great hesitancy.
“The Big Short” also follows two young wannabes (played by Finn Wittrock and John Magaro) who enlist Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt, going Full Redford), a former day trader and current urban hippie, to get in on the action. Rickert helps them become rich, but sadly provides the only moment of clarity: Rickert knows they are going to make millions of dollars off the backs of millions of Americans whose lives are about to be financially destroyed.
Therein lies the biggest problem with “The Big Short.” McKay’s script portrays these characters as visionary heroes who knew that doomsday was approaching. These are people that took advantage of the greed and stupidity of hundreds of people, from the fat cats on Wall Street to the consumers that agreed to preposterous loans, and became multimillionaires. Some of them justify their nihilistic actions by saying they are sticking it to an industry that deserves it, but apparently the ‘“two wrongs don’t make a right” theory escapes them.
If anything, nothing that McKay has directed prior comes remotely close to the overall moviemaking zeitgeist of “The Big Short.” There are moments when the movie is shot like a documentary, complete with characters breaking the fourth wall. There is little doubt this movie will be showered with Oscar nominations, but the sure fire winner is editor Hank Corwin. If paying attention to film cuts is your bag, it’s impossible to not see the fantastic work that Corwin has put in here.
Every single actor that appears in “The Big Short” is perfectly cast and excels. One of the highlights of the movie is that roles with lesser known actors get ample amounts of screen time. For example, Baum’s hedge fund team (Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong) are essentially a comedy trio and McKay’s script gives each of them personality and life.
No matter how much time is given to those smaller parts, this movie belongs to Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling. Bale stutters and stammers while he, unbeknownst to himself, insults everyone that he deems not as smart as him…which is everyone. Carell seems to be channeling the pain and anguish that he knows Americans are going to feel, even though he begrudgingly presses on. Gosling is reveling in his role, arrogantly throwing out orders to his assistant while self aware enough to know what he’s doing is sickening.
Of course, everyone that “won” while the economy lost knew what they were doing. “The Big Short” is either purposefully ignoring the disgusting behavior of most of its characters or it has pulled off one of the best tricks in movie history: it makes you root for those very same people. Either way, “The Big Short” is a though provoking, highly funny look at one of the most fraudulent events of the last thirty years.