I didn’t read Michael Lewis’ bestseller about the credit and housing bubble collapse and subsequent bailout of the big banks, but I couldn’t wait to see the movie on which it was based. What a cast. What rave reviews. What a saga.
Financial terminology makes my eyes glaze over and I’m an idiot when it comes to math, so I didn’t expect to understand everything that was going on in the movie – and I didn’t. But I understood enough of the big picture to get that director Adam McKay, who’s better known for his Will Ferrell comedies, came up with an ingenious way to tell a true story that’s full of financial mumbo jumbo, doesn’t have any heroes, and certainly doesn’t have a happy ending.
Basically, Christian Bale plays Dr. Michael Burry, a socially inept genius who quit medicine to start Scion Capital, where he figured out that American housing was built on a bubble that was about to burst. His investments in subprime home mortgages gets the attention of a cocky, ambitious Wall Streeter named Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who explains it all to fellow investments broker Mark Baum (Steve Carrell). Baum has a complicated relationship with his job and his life (he’s in group therapy to come to terms with his brother’s death), but follows Burry and Vennett’s strategy even as he knows it could bring the country to its knees. As I said, there are no winners here and it’s hard to care about any of the characters. But McKay presents them in a unique, fast-paced style that drew me. (He uses amusing cameos by Margot Robbie, Anthony Bordain and Selina Gomez to explain technical terms to the audience.) The result is that I was furious all over again about how corrupt our financial system is and how all those assholes took the country down and never went to jail for it.
As with most movies I see lately, “The Big Short” had several places where it could have ended (directors seem allergic to the word “cut”), and it dragged on too long for my taste. A bearded Brad Pitt, whose Plan B Productions produced the film as it did with “Moneyball,” has some cool scenes as the voice of reason, and it’s always good to see Marisa Tomei and Melissa Leo even in small roles. Overall, the movie was very entertaining, and some of the dialogue was laugh-out-loud funny. The first film to show us exactly how such a heinous chapter in America’s history happened, “The Big Short” is a must-see.