Movie review: The economic crisis comes into focus in ‘The Big Short’
–Most of us remember when the housing bubble burst. There was a crazy few days when banks looked like they were going to fail. The economy around the world was suffering. People were losing their jobs and their homes, and then the government stepped in.
For many, that was probably the end of their experience of the “economic crisis.” Others may have watched some of the movies, such as the HBO biopic “Too Big to Fail” or sought to learn more, but a whole subculture of media was devoted to exploring the crisis, why it happened and who might have seen it coming.
Michael Lewis, who chronicled true life stories in the books “Moneyball” and “The Blind Side,” was one of those who explored this topic further. In his book, “The Big Short,” he looked at those in the financial system who saw the crash coming and, better yet, profited from it. Now a new movie brings that exploration to life in a unique, comedic way.
“The Big Short” focuses on a group of outsiders in the financial industry that saw the vulnerability of the housing market as early as 2005 and began to short the market. Among the first was Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), who sunk a lot of his hedge fund into short positions well before that was viewed as a smart play.
Burry leveraged his fund and, in fact, took major losses for a long time before seeing his expertise pay off. He was hounded by investors and sued, but he remained committed to what he saw coming in the market.
Another who began betting against conventional wisdom was trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who recruited fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) to begin buying short positions. Baum and his team took at hard look at the practices in the housing market and what they found was alarming.
Finally, a couple of young outsiders – Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) – team with their mentor – Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) – and bet all they had in their $30 million fund, hoping to knock one out of the park.
All these groups took a big bet against conventional wisdom – and against the U.S. economy – because of unsound practices they saw by mortgage brokers. All of them were ahead of the curve, and all of them came out on top because of it.
Adam McKay is best known for his partnership with Will Ferrell and his work directing films like “Anchorman,” “The Other Guys,” and “Step Brothers.” He probably wouldn’t be the first name to come to mind when thinking about bringing a story like this to the screen.
But when you watch “The Big Short,” it’s clear he was the perfect choice. He interjects personality and humor into a dry subject, often winking at the camera and the audience as he tells this story. He has a talented cast, many of whom also have strong comedy chops, that helps make this a fun exploration of a serious and somewhat somber topic. That is an incredible achievement.
“The Big Short” is one of the most interesting and most fun films I’ve seen this year. It’s nominated for a number of Golden Globes, and could be a player come Academy Award time. It’s a film that does its subject justice and has also connected with audiences, bringing an important subject into the mainstream.
The cast does a great job with this film. Bale, a previous Academy Award winner, is great in his role, doing something unexpected and different with the role of Burry. Carell, who was nominated for his work in “Foxcatcher” last year, is great again in a very different role as Baum. The rest of the cast – including the deep supporting cast – is great here too. This film moves along at a good clip, holds your attention and brings this difficult period in our country’s history to life in an engaging way.
You don’t go to a movie about the financial crisis expecting to laugh and be entertained, but that’s what you get in “The Big Short.” It’s a credit to its cast and McKay’s vision for the story.
“The Big Short” has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity. Enter with caution.
Four stars out of four.
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