Director Adam McKay (Vice, Don’t Look Up) adapts Michael Lewis’ bestselling novel about the men who predicted the 2008 mortgage implosion and near-collapse of the world economy. If this sounds like dreary, heady, political stuff, that’s because it is. But McKay tackles the material with enough irreverence and off-beat humor to make it palatable… or as palatable as the triumph of capitalist greed can be.
The Big Short is a surprisingly engrossing movie that makes it easy to understand, at least on a broad level, how Wall Street’s evil scheme went down. It’s partly a biography, with Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt starring as four of the key subjects in separate storylines, all coming to the same horrifying conclusion — that Wall Street and the banks are on the precipice of catastrophe after giving far too many home loans to people who couldn’t afford to pay the mortgages. The film is also a mystery movie, as Carell’s firm and Pitt’s partners explores the validity of this prediction — talking to people who took out loans, gave loans, insured them, rated the banks, and so on. Every discussion is more revealing than the previous, illuminating the manipulative evil of Wall Street.
Carell stands in for most viewers, reacting with rage and sorrow at Wall Street’s blatant disregard for people or the economy. The horrifying ridiculousness of his findings gives the actor a few great moments of outburst. Bale is also memorable, playing a one-eyed socially awkward fund manager who incurs the wrath of his superiors when he bets 1.3 billion dollars against the market.
The Big Short is a hard movie to love, but an easy one to appreciate. Adam McKay has a way of making us face the sobering truth with craftsmanship and humor, without belittling the importance of his subject matter. If you ever wanted to understand how financial Armageddon almost happened, The Big Short will enlighten as it entertains. Just don’t expect a happy ending. You may already remember how the American taxpayers bailed out the banks when they collapsed. But points of fact outlined in the film’s ending titles indicate history is already repeating itself.
With Jeremy Strong, Melissa Leo, Tracy Letts, and Marisa Tomei.
Academy Award: Best Adapted Screenplay (Adam McKay & Charles Randolph)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Bale), Film Editing