“The Big Short” is a convoluted, and sometimes surprisingly funny but ultimately tragic look at last decade’s housing crisis that sent the economy into a tailspin. A star-studded cast tackles this very complicated subject matter with assists from Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez in celebrity cameos offering watered down explanations for we common folk. The movie is at its artful best in such moments. They are both amusing and helpful and also give credence to the movie’s argument that we give rapt attention to celebrities and sports teams while turing a blind eye to the world crumbling around us.
However it almost gets too artsy for its own good starting with Ryan Gosling’s unnecessary narration. He also seems an unusual choice to provide it as he’s the least defined and smallest of the four main characters. He’s a pompous, curly haired wheeler-dealer named named Jared Vennett trying to get someone to buy into a scheme he got wind of. It involves creating a means of placing a high limit bet on the impending failure of the grossly over inflated mortgage bond market.
Getting further in the way are the lingering documentary style camera shots on a heavy handed Christian Bale when he’s not saying anything particularly interesting. He plays Michael Burry, the man who saw what no one else did and first envisioned a means of massively profiting from it. His is the most obvious performance with occasional stutters that come across more premeditated than eccentric.
Steve Carell and Brad Pitt as the haunted and boorish Mark Baum and the former financial wizard turned paranoid recluse Ben Rickert give the best performances. They also offer each other a nice counterbalance. Carell is loud, unsympathetic and in-your-face while Pitt is low-key and reserved. All four stars are socially inept hypocrites at best and soulless products of their professions at worst. And poor Marisa Tomei is completely wasted in a few brief squeezed in scenes as Baum’s wife, Cynthia.
Yet even with its artsy excesses, not particularly likeable characters and hard to grasp story there is no denying the fascination it generates. It’s a fascination that turns to anger and dismay as vast corruption and fraud beyond anything our four main characters imagined is uncovered. The human toll of that fraud and corruption first becomes apparent when a large tattooed man (Oscar Gale) discovers that while he regularly pays his rent, he may lose his home due to his landlord defaulting on the mortgage. It’s a scene that sticks and adds to the unease you will feel as you exit the theatre.