Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the movies after space opera fantasies, along comes The Big Short. A film that harbors a palpable sense of disbelief at the unethical behavior displayed by the nation’s leading financial structures and their unregulated practices overlooked by the government. Director/writer Adam Mckay has taken Michael Lewis’ (dry) account of the pre-market collapse and the resulting bailout chronicled in his bestseller and made the endeavor easily understandable and darkly comic at the same time. This is no easy feat and Mckay (mostly known for his Anchorman movies) proves himself a rich storyteller. Who knew? That seems to be the theme of the tale outlined here and characterized by a dozen gifted actors portraying real-life fund managers that foresaw the burst of the housing bubble.
The Big Short chronicles the foresight of Michael Burry (Christian Bale), trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), and investment manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) in the creation of the credit default swap market. Each of these individuals made a long-term investment, deemed insane at the time, to essential bet against the nation’s economy. When the collateralized debt (CDO) bubble burst in spectacular fashion that resulted in a three-year financial crisis, these men profited greatly.
For a story with multiple layers of complexity, back story and dense financial jargon the screenplay is streamlined and told with such clarity that anyone can follow the legal con games happening. It’s not a revelatory notion that greed is bad, that American financial structures are in collusion with government agencies, that those institutes care about nothing but money, and that none of this is good news for those of us who don’t happen to work on Wall Street and earn high seven-figure salaries. That being said, The Big Short is an atypical approach to material that was considered ‘not film-able’.
Frankly, I’m astonished that a movie of such intelligence, sly playfulness, and nihilism can come from the studio system in 2015. Rumor has it that Director Adam Mckay had to give Paramount Anchorman 2 before they green lit this riskier project. The gamble has paid off handsomely as The Big Short is already looking like a box-office hit along with earning rave critical notices. If/when this sort of collapse happens again I have a feeling that unlike Baum himself, there will be many to proclaim “I told you so.”
Director: Adam Mckay
Stars: Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt