“The Big Short” offers a condemning portrayal of the events leading up to the Great Recession. The unmitigated greed and shortsightedness therein paints a disturbing view of the financial downfall. It covers the housing market crash with the narrative heft of a big budget Hollywood movie and the educational content of a documentary. The star-studded cast ranges from A list celebrities like Brad Pitt to culinary bad boy Anthony Bourdain, and attempts to clearly explain the highly complex fiscal meltdown.
In Adam McKay’s newest film, several savvy money managers begin to suspect shady practices in the financial world. Sub-prime mortgages and the subsequent securities composed of them are increasingly traded at inflated prices, and corruption ranging from the local to federal level reinforces the unsustainable business practices.
Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is a socially awkward doctor who quits medicine to become a financial investor. His voracious reading habits and analytical skills make him famous for generating huge profits through unorthodox investing. After seeing vulnerability in the housing market, he bets all his company’s money on its collapse, to the fury of his investors. Meanwhile, Mark Baum (Steve Carell) is a brusque, suspicious trader that is constantly looking for wrongdoing and opportunity in Wall Street. He is approached by Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), a sleazy, selfish Deutsche Bank representative who offers to help him cash in on an impending market disaster, which Baum hesitantly agree to. At the same time two amateur money managers working out of their garage in California suspect similar vulnerabilities in the housing market. Their outsider status prevents them from making connections but also helps them see dangers most insiders are not unaware of. Assistance from former Deutsche Bank investor Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) helps them make their bet against the US economy.
Although lacking anything notable in cinematography, the soundtrack, pacing, and acting is top notch. Christian Bale in particular commits to his role and delivers a predictably raw performance, mastering the quirks and foibles of an outsider money manager with Aspergers.
The structure of the film deviates from standard practice by frequently breaking the fourth wall, having characters address the audience directly. Unexpected celebrity appearances are frequent and inject comedy into the distressing subject matter.
McKay’s explanation of a highly complicated financial crisis seems to describe the events and issues clearly without giving up accuracy. Despite its complicated set up, most viewers can follow along thanks to the script cleverly using Jared and several celebrity cameos as exposition devices. The final message regarding future market bubbles serves as a warning of free market dangers and underscores the importance of regulation reform.
You don’t have to be a financial wizard to appreciate “The Big Short”, and although it can be confusing it guarantees reflection after leaving the theater that is paralleled only by the most powerful documentaries. It’s garnering of 5 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, reinforces it’s status as a must-see movie of 2015.