The Big Short – 2015

Director Adam McKay
Screenplay Charles Randolph and McKay
Starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Tracy Letts, Hamish Linklater, John Magaro, Byron Mann, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, Finn Wittrock, Melissa Leo

There are a whole bunch of facts being spit out in The Big Short. Director and writer Adam McKay spent many months consolidating the tons of individual twists and turns into a concise set of basic facts. In short, it boiled down to this: the con job that started back in the late ’70’s and continued right on through the Obama administration boiled down to the mirage that Wall Street finance is all too complicated for regular people. What’s more, people don’t like bad news, so the bad guys are more than willing to relabel it as AAA good news.

It takes someone looking honestly at the numbers to figure out that each tiny little bad deal, when bundled together with a bunch of other bad deals can lead to a very bad place. And if one is paying close attention and has no compunction, they can profit from this.

The Big Short is four stories of such a thing happening just in front of the 2007-2008 financial collapse that changed the world and found another way for the little people to pay for the folly of the 1% with the help of the government.

The first one to notice is reclusive hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Bale). In 2005, he notices a growing instability in the U.S. housing market. He sees the trend of high risk subprime loans resulting in fewer and fewer returns. After trying to explain this to those who want to imagine that it is more complicated, he goes in both barrels and creates a credit default swap market in order to cash in on the likelihood of the housing market collapsing in 2nd quarter 2007.

The swath he cuts through the New York banking industry gets back to bank trader Jared Vennet (Gosling). Soon it occurs to him that Burry understands something that no one else is even contemplating. He uses this knowledge to place his own wager on the credit default swap market and convinces Mark Baum (Carell) to join in on the effort. Baum and his team further uncover that the sale of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) are exacerbating the pending collapse.

Two young investors, Charlie Geller (Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Wittrock) stumble across some of Vennett’s information and quickly decide to follow suit. Their lack of gravitas in the market leads them to pull in retired and reclusive banker Ben Rickert (Pitt) to back them.

How all of them fare in their efforts is up to the viewer to experience. It can be said that this film is a surreal experience in light of the fact that most certainly everyone who watches will have known someone who has been horribly affected by this tragic swindle. We are literally watching groups of people race to the feeding trough to gorge upon the misery of others. McKay does a good job of disguising the distaste, however, by putting these despicable characters in the company of even more despicable characters.

The acting is strictly method. Everyone pushes caricature to the limit. Carell is the one that is too honest. Bale is the one that is too eccentrically smart. Gosling is the sleaze with no regrets. Pitt is the brilliant recluse who admonishes others from being too excited about profiting off the misery, but goes right on and helps them to do it.

The real star here, though, is McKay. He acts as though there is no fourth wall, but what’s more, he busts everything down to the point where it’s easy to see how everyone was duped:

They took the Emperor’s cash that he was taking from the people and they gave him back an empty wardrobe. Then the Emperor took more cash from the people.

McKay’s direction and script breaks it down brilliantly and with unconventional guest appearances. He makes the material as palatable as possible, and funnier than one would think could be possible. He gets the most out of his undercard of actors, especially Magaro, Wittrock, Linklater, Strong and Spall. This movie moves best with the actors aren’t as familiar with, even if the leads do a decent job of holding their own.

I will watch this again. Because, really, I still don’t know if I completely understand it, even with all of McKay’s help. I can’t say I will put it up there as a completely enjoyable experience. Maybe if I didn’t realize how much it really is just bad news that will likely affect us all the rest of our lives.

(**** out of *****)

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