By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
During the financial crisis of the late 2000s, the housing market collapsed due to highly questionable practices by financial institutions offering mortgages to under and unqualified creditees. As a result, these financial institutions nearly collapsed and the government had to step in and bail them out to prevent a major financial catastrophe. In the preceding years, a group of brash unorthodox investors predicted the burst of the housing bubble, sought to protect their interests and even profit from the demise of the housing market. The Big Short presents this story in a brash and highly creative way similar to the bold personlities who were willing to bet against the market.
Former neuro-surgeon, Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), has quit his profession to start an investment company called Scion Capital. Dr. Burry, who has Asperger syndrome, may not have good social skills, but he definitely has a brilliant mind that discovers the housing bubble which he predicts will burst in a few years. He is not alone in his discovery and is joined by other investors including Mark Baum (Steve Carell), Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), Charlie Gellar (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) who are willing to invest loads of money to bet it all against the housing market.
Based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, writer/director Adam McKay presents this incredible true story in a bold and inventive way. McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph not only put a comedic and satirical spin on dramatization of these events, McKay uses imaginative and unorthodox methods to present the facts and the explain the business and investment practices that lead up to the collapse of the housing market. If I were to reveal how he exactly does this would definitely take away from the highly entertaining experience it is. Trust me, though, McKay takes what could have been a dull and uninteresting subject (to some) and presents it in some eccentric and idiosyncratic ways. I see it as a business dramatization for shorter attention spans.
In all honesty, though, I can see why McKay uses offbeat techniques. With all of the details that go into explaining the mortgage and housing market practices and how these maverick business minds chose to profit from it, it is easy to lose one’s audience. As it is; McKay and Randolph still falter somewhat in that they include way too much unnecessary exposition. The screenplay and film itself would benefit from some necessary trimming. Still, considering the intricate details involved in this story, the director and his co-writer manage to make it work and in an exciting way.
The cast in the film is truly amazing. Ryan Gosling portrays Jared Vennett, who is not only a major player in The Big Short, but also the film’s cocky narrator. Gosling comes across similarly to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, and this works perfectly for this movie. Christian Bale does an outstanding job as the brilliant, but painfully awkward Dr. Michael Burry. He is so fascinating to watch as he channels his energy into some wild and sometimes bizarre practices. He also superbly utilizes the facial tics, mannerisms, and nuances that people with Asperger often display. The one actor who often steals the show is Steve Carell who portrays Mark Baum as a fiery tempered, paranoid, and permanently angry shrewd businessman who never minces words. He gets nearly of the best lines in the movie and is a riot to behold on the screen.
The film isn’t all fun and games either. Some of the characters actually learn from their experiences and are forever changed by it. This is where the biting satire stings the most. The characters may, more or less, get their once desired results, but then also discover that isn’t always best to get what one wants. Being right isn’t always a good feeling. Even though the film is highly entertaining, it really isn’t a feel-good motion picture. Knowing more about the nature of the business and some of the unscrupulous practices leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth. I do believe that is the desired reaction that McKay hopes to get out of his audience. The world of business, much like gambling, can be a wild and exciting ride, but regardless of the results, it is easy to lose one’s soul and innocence in the process.