‘The Big Short’ Review

THE BIG SHORT (8 out of 10) Directed by Adam McKay; Written by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, based on the book by Michael Lewis; Starring Christian BaleSteve CarellRyan GoslingBrad PittMarisa TomeiFinn WittrockJohn MagaroMelissa LeoKaren GillanMax GreenfieldBilly MagnussenMargot RobbieSelena GomezAnthony Bourdain; Rated R for “pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity”; Running time 130 min; In semi-wide release December 25, 2015.

Nothing says the holiday season like a feel-good movie about the financial collapse that almost destroyed the world economy, the economics behind it, and the people who figured it out beforehand and actually made money by betting against the markets, amirite?

Don’t judge a film by its synopsis– or else you will miss out on one of the best-acted, heartwrenching, and funny films around. And while it’s not very Christmas-y, this should be considered for (adult) families and friends with a sense of humor who have already had their fill of Star Wars looking for a flick this holiday weekend. Something Oscar-worthy that people will be talking about, but doesn’t feel like you’re eating your arts and culture vegetables? Have I got a present for you. . .

Based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name, the scariest thing is this film is all true. But to sugarcoat that very big bottle of medicine, you hire Adam Mckay (Anchorman, SNL, Funny or Die), whose manages the impossible: make boring exposition that belongs in an Economics 201 class or CNBC interesting and fun. Yes, fun.

He also coaxes one of the best performances of his career out of Steve Carrell, a performance so unlike Ryan Gosling you forget that it’s Ryan Gosling, and another brilliant piece of work out of Christian Bale. 

The film follows several stories at once, especially following these main characters, as they begin to piece together the mountain of BS that Wall St had constructed from mortgage-backed securities. The take-no-prisoners approach shines a light and spreads the blame to everyone, from, yes, greedy Wall St bankers, to greedy borrowers, loan officers, and especially on the traffic cops who should have been regulating this: the government and the credit ratings agencies.

To illustrated this point there is a great scene where Carrel confronts a ratings officer at Moody’s who, at that point, literally cannot see what is in front of her face. It’s a little on the nose, but it conveys the sentiment clearly. As is a scene where Karen Gillan plays an SEC regulator who is supposed to be policing the banks, but is too busy partying with them in Vegas and trying to get hired by one of them.

It’s good. Not subtle.

Speaking of not subtle, the film has a great way of keeping your attention during somewhat boring exposition: bring in celebrities in cutaway sequences to explain concepts in entertaining ways. Here’s a giant Jenga set to explain what “traunches” are and what happens when they fail. Here’s Anthony Bourdain to explain how mortgage-backed securities work, etc.

And while the film clocks in at over two hours, it never feels it. Brilliantly paced, and, if anything, you’re left wanting more.

An amazing supporting cast also helps move this film along. Putting great actors in even small roles (such as Gillan, as mentioned before, or Max Greenfield and Billy Magnussen as a pair of douche-bro mortgage brokers) really helps keep this moving. Brad Pitt has a smaller role as well, taking double duty from his job as executive producer. (It’s worth noting that Pitt also produced “Moneyball,” a similarly ponderous story about applied statistics and baseball, also written by Michael Lewis, who wrote the book this screenplay is based on.)

“The Big Short” would be massively entertaining if it weren’t so depressing. The ending, especially, is distressing, as you realize that we haven’t fixed a thing. And, if anything, the problem is now worse.

Regardless, Carrell is deserving of another Oscar Nomination here, as are McKay and Randolph for an adapted screenplay. 

This is the most fun you will ever have with finance and economics. Guaranteed. And you might learn something. But you’ll definitely laugh. And then feel sad.

8 out of 10