Now I literally have no clue what to do with my money.
The financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 will always and forever be considered one of the most heart-breaking, tragic moments in recent memory. But even though it may have came as a shock to most normal, everyday working people whose lives were affected the most, a few within the financial world saw it coming from a mile away and tried to do whatever it is that they could do to fix it all and stop it from happening in the first place. There’s Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a hedge fund manager who is definitely an odd person, but knows of the issue right away. Then, there’s Mark Baum (Steve Carell), another hedge fund manager who, along with his trusted band of confidantes, are trying to figure out what the problem is. And last, but certainly not least, Charlie Ledley (John Magaro) and Jamie Mai (Finn Wittrock), two friends and business partners who are risking all that they’ve got by going out there and making these issues open to generally anyone who will listen. But as they, as well as everyone else here finds out, it doesn’t matter how right you are about what’s set to happen, rich people won’t listen because they don’t want to think of losing their money, for whatever reasons.
One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of the Big Short is that it’s dealing with some very challenging and dry topics. While I’m sure that everybody knows about the financial crisis of 2008 and has a general idea of what went down and why, nobody really knows for sure and that’s exactly what the Big Short sets out to do, which is already enough reason to run for cover, hold up one’s arms, wave that white flag, and give up all hope on ever being informed about anything ever again. After all, you, just like many other average citizens in this world, probably don’t have a single clue what yield curve, or synthetic CDO actually is – instead, you just know what you’re having for dinner, who the President of the United States is, and well, maybe, how many days are in a year. The housing market, banks, mortgages, and all of that other serious, financial stuff isn’t needed in everyday life, so why bother with hearing it at all?
Well, that’s why there’s something brilliant about the Big Short in that it understands all of these issues it may face with appealing to a bigger audience out there and does something totally out of the ordinary: It explains it all.
And by “explains it all”, I mean exactly that; rather than having the movie try its hardest to find a way to finagle in meanings of certain definitions through needless exposition, characters in the film will literally turn towards the camera, or use their narration, and tell you what something means, or have someone else who is perhaps more appealing to do the same. Yet, none of these people ever matter to the actual movie itself and more or less, just seem like glorified cameos, which is fine because, well, they absolutely are! That’s why, when seemingly out of nowhere, we get a scene of Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, telling us about subprime mortgage lenders, it’s definitely, but necessary and much-needed, so instead of throwing it away, you just learn to accept it, learn a few things in the process, and move right on along.
By the way, random celebrities showing up in the movie to explain something happens about three times in the movie, but it works each and every time because, well, it perfectly explains what we need to know about what happens to the housing market and why the U.S. economy was hit so hard. Co-writer and director Adam McKay is very smart allowing for the bulk of the film to just be about what’s going to happen and give us a general idea of why, and then allow for us to watch once all of the cards fall into place and how all of the people who notice it first, act and try to fix it all before it’s too late. Clearly, we know the ending, so the film’s spin on “based on a true story”, is actually quite funny, but that doesn’t take away from any of the tragedy, either.
Still, at the same time, McKay being a director with a heavy background in comedy (Anchorman, Step Brothers), understands that the best way to cope with a tragedy of any kind, is still add an element of funny, sometimes hard-hitting comedy, that makes the pill go down smoother. But whereas with McKay’s other films where it seemed like a lot of the comedy was just about how far certain actors could go to ad-lib without breaking a sweat, here, each and every actor spouts colorful and fiery line of dialogue as if Aaron Sorkin had written the script after he did a few lines. So this isn’t all to say that the Big Short’s funny, but it’s also quite hilarious and smart in that it’s created this all-too-real universe where people talk fast, walk fast, are fast with their comebacks and generally prefer to be harsh to one another because well, they have a lot of money and they can.
But once these people start to realize that all of their money, as well as a lot of other people’s, is going down the drain, they realize that there’s no more playing around and it’s time to knuckle up or shut up. Sad thing is, we know how the story ends and McKay does, too.
That’s why, he never allows for us to forget about it.
If anything, the Big Short shows who is to blame for the financial crisis, but at the same time, still doesn’t give any closure onto why those responsible let it go on for so long, nor does it resolve the issue of whether they knew about it forever and didn’t care, or if they were just too stupid to realize? Either way, the movie definitely points its long and hard finger directly at the shooter and it helps give a sense of satisfaction even if, you know, those same said baddies are the ones who ended-up getting away with it all. Still though, when watching all of this unravel, you almost forget about that fact and just allow for the story, as well as the characters, to tell itself.
That’s why it helps that the Big Short has such a talented ensemble who, even when it seems like they’re just speaking like my Economics professor, still add enough fun and flair to the proceedings, that they make it a little more compelling. Christian Bale’s Dr. Michael Burry is perhaps the only character who hardly ever moves from one location, but because Burry’s persona is based on weird tics and traits, Bale runs wild with the role and seems to be enjoying himself. Though he’s still enraged by what he’s seeing, there’s still a sense that Bale wants to be light enough to where it helps us get through this pain and sadness.
Same goes for Steve Carell as Mark Baum, someone who seems to live a lovely life inside this financial world, but at the same time, doesn’t want to sit so idly by, that he forgets about it all, either. Carell’s really enjoying this role here and it should be noted that, even despite all of the names and characters popping-up, he’s the clear star of the show and with good reason; not only is his character given the most backstory out of everybody else here, he’s also the most humane one out of the bunch. Though the whole dead-brother angle goes on a bit too long and is an obvious arc capable of being seen from a mile away, Carell still shoulders through it to where it’s okay – we just want to see him be more pissed-off and curse because Carell’s pretty good at that.
And well, for the matter, so is Ryan Gosling.
Gosling’s character, despite not being the meatiest of the bunch, is still probably the most memorable because he’s exactly what every young, rich and vain hotshot in the financial world probably is like. Gosling not only looks the part because he’s Ryan Gosling, but he’s also got the smooth charm and tongue to make him work all the more; while we’re never too sure if he’s a good or bad guy in this equation, we know that he definitely knows a whole lot about money and is capable of being trusted. That said, every scene he’s in, he steals and just about every line he delivers, is hilarious; even the scene where he describes the housing market with a Jenga set, while smart and interesting, is still funny because Gosling’s character is so in love with himself, you just know that he thinks it’s the most simple thing to ever explain. Even though we all know, for sure, it isn’t.
Brad Pitt shows up, too, as Ben Ricket, but doesn’t have a whole lot to do, except just serve Finn Wittrock and John Magaro’s characters bits of info that they need to make this story move more. Wittrock and Magaro are both great here and definitely give us a nice, small-time view of what this financial world looks like from the ground-up; because even though they don’t know it’s all going to crash just yet, we still wait and wonder to how they’re going to react and just how exactly it’s all going to affect them.
Because we know what happens to everybody else on the face of the planet, but what about these two schmucks?
Eh, who cares? The economy’s in the crapper and that’s all worth caring about.
Consensus: For all its difficult financial babble, the Big Short is, surprisingly, easy-to-comprehend in ways, well-acted by its huge ensemble, funny, and most of all, insightful into how this world works and why it all matters to what happened over seven years ago.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire