The Big Short (2015)

The Big Short (2015)
  • Time: 130 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama
  • Director: Adam McKay
  • Cast: Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Marisa Tomei


Four outsiders in the world of high-finance who predicted the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s decide to take on the big banks for their lack of foresight and greed.


  • I can’t think of another film like The Big Short. It explains the economic meltdown of 2008 with a rage at the fraudulent banking system and the government that coddles it. But this — in effect — lecture is presented as a satiric montage of cultural references woven through the stories of the five principals who bet on the mortgage bubble collapsing and taking the economy down with it. They bet their success on the economy’s failure.
    The five lead figures are variously outsiders who see past the industry’s smugness and are disturbed by the banks’ corruption and irresponsibility. Each has his own quirks and offbeat temperament — because only they can strike an outside perspective on the system.
    Paradoxically, the first to see through that system is the one-eyed maverick, Michael Burry, an MD turned investment broker. We’re not told what kind of doctor he is, but to through Wall Street like that he must be a proctologist. In the kingdom of the willfully blind the one-eyed man is king.
    In contrast, the Standard and Poor exec who reluctantly admits the bond ratings are sham wears dark wraparound shades, that express her inscrutability and compromised vision.
    At least three — Burry, Mark Baum and Ben Rickert — are idealists, with an earnest desire to see justice served on the corrupt banks. Charlie Geller and Jaimie Shipley are spirited young hustlers itching to crack the closed game.
    Our interest in the five engaging men gives this economics lesson a real hook. The human drama brings the financial story to life. Adding to the film’s humour and wild spirit, director Adam McKay tosses in comic inserts. In a bubble bath a sexy champagne-sipping blonde explains one matter of high finance, a famous chef another. To distance itself from its corrupt characters, sometimes a character admits to the camera that a scene didn’t really happen the way it’s being played. Sometimes for emphasis he tells us that an outrageous scene actually happened that way. This reminds us we’re watching a story more truthful than the usual “based on…” fictionalization. This is our financial system and government at “work.”
    The montage of shots from the media, from a tent city, from activities across the American social spectrum, make a key point about this bursting of the mortgage bubble. The drama didn’t happen in isolation, however detached the moneymen may be. As the retired Rickert reminds his two celebrating colleagues, the social collapse inherent in the short-sellers’ success means thousands will lose their jobs, their homes, their pensions, their futures, their families and lives. The mortgage bubble didn’t happen in a bubble but with wide-ranging and real, tragic consequences for thousands of innocents. The cultural references remind us that the cut-throat capitalism we see here is not a freakish exception but indeed an essential element of the capitalist culture.
    Indeed the film packages the dense information and historic reconstruction as a very human story, primarily through our engagement with the characters, but also through the comic play in the additional material. The sombre subject matter closes with the ominous warning that the same corrupt practice continues, with no reform to the economic system and virtually no punishment for the fraudulent bankers whose greed almost destroyed the world economy. But the human stories, the jokes, the rich vein of visual material, make this tragedy feel almost comic. The film doesn’t change the economic fraud or end the greed, but it makes the hard lesson not just palatable but a pleasure.
    Perhaps the film’s key justification is the quote from Mark Twain: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.“ Now we know how wrong our trust was in our economic system, in our banks and our brokers, and in the government that’s supposed to place the common weal ahead of its rich friends’.
    From novelist Haruki Murakami comes the climactic resignation: “Everyone, deep in their hearts, is waiting for the end of the world to come.” Bernie Sanders must love this film.

  • As a math major, I once considered going into the field of economics because the world of Wall Street is a profitable one. Then you take your first economics class and you realized the words found in the glossary is way too complex to consider that field. After all, if everyone understood them then everyone would be working on Wall Street. Millions of numbers and complex terminology could be beyond off-setting for anyone then you have Margot Robbie in a hot tub to explain it all.

    When four outsiders saw what the big banks, media and government refused to, the global collapse of the economy, they had an idea: The Big Short. Their bold investment leads them into the dark underbelly of modern banking where they must question everyone and everything.

    With that being said, writer-director Adam McKay was able to turn such a complex concept that is the hosing bubble and made one of the funniest and entertaining films of the year. Due to the The Big Short, I am capable of partially explaining the how a small group of individuals were able to create such a huge profit by purchasing million of dollars in shorts. McKay doesn’t put you through a boring 130-minute economics lecture but uses three eccentric characters, celebrity cameos and an amazing screenplay to put you through one of the best comedies of the year.

    That is something we must not lose sight of, The Big Short is a comedy. As for our three eccentric characters, we have Christian Bale’s Michael Burry, a medical doctor who does not give a compliant without making things feel awkward (says things such as, “That’s a nice haircut. Did you do it yourself?”), Steve Carell’s Mark Baum, a man who is so mad at the world for its corrupt ways that it landed him in anger management and Ryan Gosling’s Jared Vennett, a fellow banker who is positive that his co-workers and fellow colleagues are either ignorant or fraudulent. Bale is not the warmest of actors and that is perfect for a character such as Burry who does not know how to connect with the world. Carell continues growing a reputation as a serious comedic actor, following up his for performance in 2014’s Foxcatcher.

    So who are the heroes of the film? You might want to root for our three characters in hopes that their gamble on these shorts payoff and they indeed make a huge profit. These guys have their earnings, careers and reputation on the line and you just want these oddballs to succeed but theres a catch. If these oddballs are correct and these shorts do payoff then that means the housing market has crashed and millions of Americans will lose their homes. Not only will you realize this catch-22 but so does our characters and it puts Baum through an emotional toll.

    Forget Anchorman, Talladega Nights or even Step Brothers as The Big Short is Adam McKay’s masterpiece. Marvel fans be prepared as McKay will be writing the screenplay for Ant-Man and the Wasp.

  • “It’s like 2 + 2 = fish.” That effectively sums up the 2008 global financial crisis, the inner workings of which defy easy understanding. For most of the general public, the economic meltdown boiled down to banks bad, people screwed, banks bailed out because they were too big to fail, and hardworking lower and middle classes were hung out to dry. But how did it happen? How was it allowed to happen? The finer points of this calamity involve financial jargon so dense it prevents instant comprehension or the willing patience to pay attention, which is why Michael Lewis’ digestible and entertaining 2010 account, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, makes for essential reading.

    Is its film adaptation mandatory viewing? Not necessarily. Director Adam McKay and co-screenwriter Charles Randolph depict the shenanigans as a three-ring circus populated by weirdos and outsiders who saw the signs and were smart, or plain lucky, enough to profit from being the voices in the minority. First in the spotlight is Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a socially awkward Scion Capital executive with a glass eye and a penchant for heavy metal. He is presented as the soothsayer, the first to argue against the prevailing mindset that the housing market is stable. By actually bothering to go through the reams of individual mortgages, Burry discovers that a huge number of subprime home loans, essentially the very risky mortgages that provide few returns, are on the verge of imploding and decides to invest billions of his company’s clients’ money into credit default swaps. In simple terms, he’s betting that the housing market will crash. His boss thinks he’s insane: “We lose millions until something that’s never happened before happens.”

    Burry’s activities catch the attention of banker Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) who, by virtue of a wrong phone number, proposes following Burry’s lead to perpetually pissed hedge funder Mark Baum (Steve Carell). Baum and his team (Hamish Linklater, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong) are rightly suspicious, but when they learn that CDOs are in the mix, Baum and his men wade into the credit default swap waters. CDOs, or collateralised debt obligations, are poor loans that have been repackaged and given AAA ratings by bumbling ratings agencies. Or, as chef Anthony Bourdain explains, if he takes leftover halibut, puts it in a stew, and serves the stew to his customers, then it’s not old fish. It’s a whole new thing, he makes money, and people are eating three-day old halibut.

    McKay employs such techniques – using celebrities like Bourdain, Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez to spell out esoteric concepts in more relatable terms – and an array of others to ensure audience awareness. Characters often break the fourth wall and random images, animations and news footage bombard our senses when the alpha males take a break from insulting or screaming or beating their chests. Sometimes McKay’s exertions are too palpable – he wants audiences to be outraged – and they often short-circuit his intentions. Still, one has to admire his irreverence even if one can’t fully applaud it.

    The sprawling cast are uniformly excellent, though it should be noted that none of them are given fully-rounded characters to portray. They are mere foils and archetypes, though Bale and Carell manage to offer more dimensions as the outliers who know that being proven right will be a hollow victory.

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  • (Rating: ☆☆☆ out of 4)

    This film is recommended.

    In brief: A dark comedy that informs while it cashes in on its serious subject and sees it only for its entertainment possibilities.
    GRADE: B

    When I first saw the trailer for The Big Short, I thought, “What a depressing and boring topic for a film! What possessed these filmmakers to put all their time and effort into an global event that hurt so many people financially and has them still reeling from its long-lasting effects? Nobody is going to want to see this movie! It will bomb big time!”

    Well, I was partially right. Despite all of its critical praise, the movie is not breaking records at the box office. The subject of our economic collapse as a nation is more gruesome and messier than any Tarantino blood-fest, far more realistic and deadly. Moviegoers are staying away in droves. But the film is sharp, witty, and informative, that I must admit, so on that count, the filmmakers were absolutely right. The subject needs our attention…and fast! While The Big Short does have some difficult plotting issues that are hard to comprehend, the film succeeds with its imaginative retelling of the financial meltdown of the world market.
    Swaps, synthetic stock options, CDO equity…it’s like speaking a foreign language, and I must admit, I still don’t understand most of the economic jargon, even after the film tries to dumb down the financial rhetoric in the cleverest of ways by using celebrities to simplify the actions on the screen. Appearances by Margot Robbie discussing stock trading in a bubble bath, Anthony Bourdain cooking day-old leftovers, and Selena Gomez at the gambling tables of Vegas are wonderful parodies that help explain the global crisis that befell us in 2008. (I wish these smart distracting “short” infomercials were used more often throughout the film as the topic of stock market trading is a dry discussion point.)

    Solidly directed by Adam McKay, The Big Short takes its serious theme and analyzes the repercussions of the “Greed is good” mentality that permeated Wall Street then (and now) by focusing on four central players and their roles in masterminding this international Ponzi scheme.

    The casting of this quartet of stockbrokers is marvelous. Christian Bale plays Michael Burry, a frantic man-child genius, better equipped to deal with numbers than people. Ryan Gosling is Jared Vennett, a slick money broker who discovers the housing market bubble to his advantage.  Brad Pitt adds more interest as Ben Rickert, a jaded former stock broker who distrusts banks and businesses. Especially effective is Steve Carell. The actor portrays a fictional Mark Blum, and walks the fine dramatic line between anger and guilt in his skillful interpretation of one of the few businessmen with a conscience.  Fine supporting performances are given by Finn Wittrock, John Magaro, Hamish Linklater, Rafe Spall, and Jeremy Strong in smaller but pivotal roles.

    Special mention goes out to the rapid-fire editing by Hank Corwin, whose quick cuts of images add a stylish pop quality to the proceedings and an intelligent screenplay by Charles Randolph and the director establishes its despicable well drawn characters and makes them surprisingly compelling and likable. Everyone of these corporate high rollers is in it for the money and makes a profit on everyone else’s misery and financial downfall, but we moviegoers are caught up in their illegal shell game, a plan that doomed the housing market and crippled the banks and mortgage companies worldwide.

    The Big Short is well made and compelling, although its script still was unable to clearly elaborate the complexities of its topic. The film settles for the smaller picture, a behind-the-scenes look at the traders and their game, rather than delve into the larger ripple effects that created financial ruin to many families caught in the mortgage debacle. That aspect is glossed over rather quickly. But the film does serve not only as a reminder of what was, but also a warning of what may come…once again. Let the buyer beware!

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  • The Big Short has a director who is also one of the writers, it tells a true story, and there is no one character with which to identify. All of that is irrelevant. It tells a story very well and allows us to identify with the characters and understand the topic. It is funny but not at the expense of the serious stuff, and it has a message that is important, especially because what the movie is about is repeating itself right now.
    Screenwriters Charles Randolph and Adam McKay have fashioned a quick and interesting story from Michael Lewis’s book. The destruction of the economy and the housing market a few years ago is something we all know about. The angle they come at the story, however, is not from the big bankers like the films Inside Job, Too Big To Fail and the others. They are looking at it from the point of view of the men who saw it coming and, basically, bought insurance so when the housing market failed they would make millions. There are no bones about this. These guys are all aware that they betting on the lives and homes of millions of people and even they didn’t see how far the economic collapse would go.
    It’s very difficult to draw a line where the writers do something or the director does something, especially when the director is one of the writers but one of the things that was the most fun was when something was very complicated the characters would simply tell the audience that some person was going to explain it in a way the audience would understand. This meant we were given a quick cooking lesson from Anthony Bourdain, able to watch Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, and be taken to a black jack table in Los Vegas with Selena Gomez and a professor whose name I couldn’t find. On stage it’s called breaking the forth wall and they do it a lot in this movie to great advantage and humor.
    OK, so this movie was entertaining and informative but it was the characters that made me want to know what was going to happen next. Steve Carell plays Mark Baum and is the character with the most conscience about what is happening. Carell spends the movie racked by grief he holds inside himself and uses the fast pace of the financial world as his excuse to run from one thing to the next. Marisa Tomei plays his wife Cynthia who handles her grief differently but must still try to guide her husband. Hamish Linkletter, Jeremy Strong, and Jeffry Griffin play Baum’s team, each with his own perspective on the situation but they all know what will, could, and shouldn’t happen.
    A much newer group to the world of finance is played by Finn Wittrock as Jamie and John Magnaro as Charlie who have fallen into the potential of buying short but don’t quite know what or how to do it. To their aid comes an old hand who has left the field, Brad Pitt’s Ben. Ben is the old hand and doesn’t show or maybe doesn’t feel any emotion but he gets the job done. Charlie and Jamie are enthusiastic and ready for an exciting time. Ryan Gosling plays Jared who is slightly better placed in the business than the others but still sees the evil that is happening. Gosling plays Jared as highly confident to the point of arrogance. Finally, Christian Bale plays Michael Burry a man who is just this side of autism and sees the whole thing more as a puzzle than a prize.
    All of these characters were unique and believable and it was their various perspectives that held me as we saw how they reacted.
    I give this movie 4 bonds out of 4. This movie makes learning what happened easy. The problem now is how do we stop it as it happens again. No one was ever arrested for nearly destroying the economy and, in most cases, were rewarded. The arrogant hubris of many of the people in the financial business is going to rear its ugly head again and, after seeing this movie, I’m afraid sooner than later.

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