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Film Review: The Big Short

Updated on January 23, 2016

Background

In 2015, Adam McKay released The Big Short, based on the 2010 book of the same name by Michael Lewis concerning the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Rudy Eisenzopf, Casey Groves, Charlie Talbert, Hunter Burke, Shauna Rappold, Peter Epstein, Anthony Marble, Silas Cooper, Brandon Stacy, and Maria Frangos, the film has grossed $71.3 million at the box office as of January 21, 2016. One of the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Films of the Year and the winner of the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards for Best Comedy, Best Actor in a Comedy (Christian Bale) and Best Adapted Screenplay, the film has been nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing.

Synopsis

When hedge fund manager Michael Burry discovers the instability of the US housing market, he figures out a way to profit by creating a credit default swap. His actions are found out by others, such as trader Jared Vennett, investors Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley, who all decide to get in on the action as well. Meanwhile, 2007 is slowly creeping up on an unsuspecting economy.

Review

The politics surrounding the film aside, The Big Short is really just decent as a film. While it knows what it’s trying to convey about the 2007-2008 financial crisis, it feels that the film is generally confused about itself and doesn’t know if it wants to be a comedy or a drama and decides to go for the middle ground of a dramatic comedy. The problem with this is that it really plays up the dramatic moments while generally being really weak with the comedic. A lot of this is due to how bad the film’s editing is. It can’t just straight up tell the audience what it’s trying to convey, but has to cut to odd interspersing images in many of its scenes that don’t really make sense or flow with the general direction of story.

There’s also all the fourth wall breaking. While it’s an interesting concept for a film like this, using it as an attempt to help audiences understand what’s been going on the whole time, it happens just a little too much. It’s not enough for Vennett to break it, often times in the middle of a scene to tell the audience what’s going on, but Geller and Shipley also do the same to tell the audience that the way the film is portraying them as finding Baum’s short pitch is inaccurate. That seems like it would be enough, but the film also takes time it could be using to having the characters legitimately break down the complexities of the financial markets by doing it through random celebrities in odd ways, like Richard Thaler and Selena Gomez at a blackjack table or Margot Robbie in a bubble bath. Really, it’s possible to leave the film with more confusion than there was going in.

However, the characters seem to be the most interesting part of the film, with none of them really being much of a protagonist, even though the banks are an undoubted antagonist. Rather, they’re all hypocrites trying to make money on the eventual crashing of the economy. Actually, the closest person in this film resembling an upstanding person is the paranoid survivalist who berates Geller and Shipley when they’re celebrating about how much money they’re going to get and he’s only helping them do it because he feels that crashing the economy is a way to atone for what he did as a banker. In fact, he flat out tells them that if they’re successful, the everyday people who don’t see anything coming are going to lose homes, jobs, retirement savings and pensions.

Further, though the ending is a foregone conclusion since the film is showing what led up to a financial crisis that already took place, it’s still pretty interesting to see what has happened to the film’s minor characters. The two mortgage brokers Baum met in Florida are depicted as forlornly wandering through a job fair and one of Burry’s old employees is seen stocking shelves at a convenience store. The film even depicts what happened to one of the everyday people Rickert was talking about as the film shows the man renting the house in Florida, whose landlord hadn’t paid his mortgage in a long time, living with his wife and children out of a van.

3 stars for The Big Short

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinions.

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