The Big Short tells three separate but parallel stories of four businessmen who foresaw and profited off the US mortgage-housing crisis of 2005 that would lead to one of the biggest economic meltdowns ever seen. We follow Michael Burry (Christian Bale), Mark Baum (Steve Carell), as well as Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley who seek help from a retired Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) as they predict the impending collapse and decide to take on the big banks as recompense for their greed and fraudulent methods.
Now, I’m not an expert on the financial crisis of the mid-2000’s, in fact, I have stayed ashamedly oblivious of any economic or financial news happening around the world. I am painfully uneducated in the knowledge and understanding of how mortgaging and banking works – which is key to comprehending and keeping up with The Big Short and the events that unfold. For the average moviegoer, The Big Short would have to convey a cavalcade of new information in an entertaining and absorbable manner, which is no easy task.
And in this respect, The Big Short mostly succeeds. Adam McKay’s direction injects energy and innovation into a film that was in danger of being completely impenetrable to anyone who didn’t have a degree in finance. Whenever The Big Short throws vital and complicated information at you, McKay has his characters break the fourth wall or he cuts to a well known celebrity breaking it down into digestible chunks in a somewhat bleak observation on how to effectively convey information to a modern day audience. It is a funny and imaginative approach that adds a certain charm and swagger to the normally extremely dull subject matter. I say that The Big Short only mostly succeeds because the story moves as such a fast pace and we are constantly being fed new information that it can be quite difficult to keep up. You need to concentrate, hard.
But don’t be put off by The Big Short’s rather intimidating intellect, once you get into the rhythm of mortgage bonds and credit default swaps, you will be treated to a witty, engaging and informative film that boasts a stellar cast and an even better script. We are treated to a predictably brilliant performance from Christian Bale portraying the awkward Michael Burry as well as a hilarious turn from Ryan Gosling as the abrupt and ambitious Jared Vennett. Steve Carell is also given ample opportunity to showcase his acting chops beyond his lovable comedic persona, and continues to show incredible range in his ability.
The characters are certainly entertaining, and they are given every opportunity to interact and bounce off each other, usually resulting in a tornado of cursing. However, I found myself wanting more of each character I was introduced to, which is an inevitable consequence of having such a large cast, as the film attempts to tell a fragment of each character’s story. This results in The Big Short lacking focus that would have been much appreciated on the more rounded players. Both Michael Burry and Mark Baum are struggling with buried personal issues that are only touched upon in the already long 130-minute run time, and a deeper exploration was needed for me to fully connect with these characters.
The Big Short’s ambition and enthusiasm is admirable, with an incredible attention to detail that never truly feels weighed down by the extensive amount of information that it throws at the audience. The Big Short does lose some momentum as it nears its tragic conclusion but Adam McKay’s darkly comic take on the financial crisis of the mid-2000’s is populated with a colourful parade of characters, portrayed by an outstanding cast and enriched by a wonderfully sharp script that takes full advantage of the stars on its poster.
The Big Short is probably the funniest film about credit default swaps that you will ever watch.