How can a movie that talks about credit-default swaps and collateralized debt obligations be entertaining? It’s pretty simple. Get a former comedy writer from Saturday Night Live Adam McKay (Anchorman) to write and direct it. ‘The Big Short’ is not only very funny but it is an educational pill that every American needs to swallow. The film deals with the housing bubble that led to the 2008 financial crisis. Based on the novel by Michael Lewis, McKay pulls you into the story by concentrating on a few of the quirky individuals who did their homework and saw the financial collapse come before anyone else. The scary aspect of the story is that it could easily happen again. Thanks to a dream team ensemble cast and celebrity cameos, ‘The Big Short’ crackles at a fast and furiously entertaining pace.
The film expertly intertwines different characters and storylines. The first centers on Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a San Jose-based doctor turned money manager who lacks in social skills but is a whiz at number crunching. Bale lets loose as the eccentric Burry works barefoot in shorts and blares heavy-metal music while playing air drums. One day he goes over mortgage bond spreadsheets and finds some startling news. He notices that many of the home loans bundled into the bonds are headed for default. He is the first to realize that many people that were given loans would not be able to afford their payments after the adjustable rates kicked in and sparked hordes of foreclosures to occur. When he approaches investment banks on Wall Street, he asks them to create a new financial tool to literally “short” the housing bond market and bet against it. They laugh in his face thinking he is crazy to bet against such a stable market but they take his money anyway.
Two other first-rate performances come from Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell. Gosling plays Jared Vennett, a smarmy Deutsche Bank trader who narrates segments and at times breaks the fourth wall to speak directly at the audience. It’s an effective device also used by Martin Scorsese in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’ McKay uses it to grab your attention without talking down to the audience. Carell plays a temperamental money manager Mark Baum that forms an unlikely business alliance with Gosling’s character Vennett. He provides him with insider information that the housing market is set to collapse. Vennett also explains how bad mortgages are bundled together using Jenga blocks. This allows Baum and his team to investigate the crisis firsthand by visiting the dicey housing market in Miami and a convention in Las Vegas where financiers trade the bad loans under the name “collateralized debt obligations.”
If you’re yawning by now, no need to worry. It is all broken down with humor and the help of cameo celebrities. The financial jargon is deconstructed in layman’s terms. One of the most eye-catching is Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) sipping champagne in a bathtub while explaining the concept of subprime mortgages. In another cutaway scene, Chef Anthony Bourdain compares the housing scam to three-day-old fish thrown into a pot of overpriced stew sold to unsuspecting customers. Later in the film, there is another dazzling tongue-in-cheek scene where Selena Gomez is playing a hand of blackjack and how it is illustrated that gamblers similar to investors are lured into believing they cannot lose. If that isn’t enough to woo you, there is another group of characters led by a duo of young investors Finn Wittrock (Jamie Shipley) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) who want a place at the big boy table on Wall Street. With the help of Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), a former banker that left the dirty investment game years ago for a healthier lifestyle in Boulder, the two protégés get a crack at becoming filthy rich. Pitt’s character reminds them that by making a killing in the market, there are millions that will lose their homes and savings.
Although ‘The Big Short’ is peppered with humor, there is an angry undertone to the proceedings. The major conviction here is that the banks all engaged in criminal activity and the U.S. government willingly bailed them out. It was the little guy that lost their savings, jobs and homes while the Wall Street executives got bailed out and gave themselves fat bonuses. ‘The Big Short’ made a strong showing when the Golden Globes were announced. Both Christian Bale and Steve Carell were both nominated for Best Film Actor in a musical or comedy. Adam McKay and Charles Randolph are nominated for Best Screenplay in a motion picture.
If you like financial movies like ‘Margin Call’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ the incredibly talented cast in ‘The Big Short’ makes this important film a sure bet. Check out the official trailer https://youtu.be/vgqG3ITMv1Q.