Review: The Big Short
This review originally ran during our coverage of AFI Fest
PLOT: When a small group of businessmen see that the housing bubble is likely to collapse, they try and prepare for a possible devastating outcome. Taking on the big banks, they find themselves diving head first into dangerous financial waters.
REVIEW: Adam McKay is a filmmaker known for creating some very funny feature films including STEP BROTHERS, ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY and THE OTHER GUYS. While his latest has a surprising amount of humor, it carries with it a harsh and critical wit that takes us into the housing credit bubble that brought about the Financial crisis from 2007-2010. As funny as this can be, this is a harsh look at those involved in this devastating collapse. It is a riveting drama that takes a sobering approach to the story, concentrating on just a handful of people who saw the downfall coming. With a smart story, and fantastic casting, THE BIG SHORT is a fine film that delicately handles the serious tones with a sharp comedic edge.
The story begins slightly out of order. Ryan Gosling portrays Jared Vennett, who is utilized as a narrator or sorts - and an arrogant one at that. In the beginning he introduces us to the players, including Christian Bale as Michael Burry, a slightly left of center heavy metal fan, who also happens to be smarter than everybody in the room. After researching the current state of home mortgages in the US, he feels that a collapse is imminent. And then there is Steve Carell as Mark Baum, one of the most conflicted when it comes to how the oncoming storm with affect those less fortunate. And then there is Jamie Shipley and Charlie Geller (Finn Wittrock and John Magaro), up-and-comers in the business world who stumble on the bubble and its possible collapse.
Adapted from the book written by Michael Lewis, Adam McKay and Charles Randolph have created an intensely complicated screenplay that ventures into this dark side of recent history. So much so, if you are not familiar with the housing market and the financial downfall, you may be left scratching your head. The detail in the script is occasionally explained by breaking the forth wall with some surprise cameos - they are too much fun so I won’t give them away here. Even still, this is a complicated mess of a situation that at times is difficult to follow for those with little knowledge of the situation. Thankfully, through all of it you can still find the heart of the story and the huge consequences it had on so many people. As humorous as this can be, the dire circumstances are very clear.
What is most impressive about THE BIG SHORT is how easily McKay is able to create a balance that is serious in tone, yet not off-putting. With equal parts that are stylistically similar to the television series The Office - with actors looking into the camera explaining situations - and a fast moving story with a ton of characters rotating throughout, it all works. Of course, with so many major actors, it is usually hard to fully flesh them all out equally, yet this entertaining flick does a surprisingly great job of it. The director is able to use some big names in very creative ways. Brad Pitt is especially solid as a paranoid ex-trader named Ben Rickert. The dichotomy between he and Wittrock and Magaro is one of the highlights. McKay has always had a talent for putting together a great cast, and this is no exception.
Speaking of terrific performances, Christian Bale is absolutely captivating here. The actor once again finds tiny details in Burry which help to make one hell of a fascinating character. Both he and Carell certainly have the showiest of the roles, and Carell is quite good here, but it is Bale who steals every scene he is in. The egocentric nature of Burry isn’t necessarily celebrated, in fact sometimes you almost feel sorry for him. Either way, he is an intriguing sort. Had the movie been entirely about him, it might have been just as interesting if not more-so. You have to wonder if the real life inspiration of Burry is nearly half as quirky as Bale’s on-screen creation. Somehow I doubt it.
This modern day morality tale may take on a very serious subject matter, but it does so in an engaging way. The humor is intact, even if the seriousness of the story has a devastating impact. Perhaps it is McKay’s flair for comedy that helps keep the satire sharp without taking away from the drama. For many, much of the dialogue will seem a bit too smart for its own good, but it wouldn’t necessarily work had it all been dumbed down. With an all-star cast and an impressive script, this is a slyly entertaining film that still carries a very heavy heart. Bale is outstanding, and he leads an impressive cast that also includes Karen Gillam, Marisa Tomei, Max Greenfield, Billy Magnussen, Jeremy Strong and Melissa Leo. THE BIG SHORT is a scathingly funny flick that manages to frighten as much as it entertains.
THE BIG SHORT was the closing night feature at this year's AFI Fest and it opens in limited release on December 11th, with a wide release on December 23rd.
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