December 10, 2016

Review: ‘The Big Short’

Adam McKay’s take on the economic collapse of 2007-2010 succeeds on its richly dark humor, scathing performances and awards worthy editing.

The Big Short is based on the 2010 non-fiction book of the same name by Michael Lewis. The prolonged housing bubble is about to burst. Below the surface of houses being sold was a list of bad investments. One of the first to notice something is amiss in 2005 is the eccentric Michael Burry (Christian Bale), who casually walks around his office in a baggy t-shirt, barefoot as he bashes his drum sticks to the rhythm of heavy metal.

This draws the attention of young alpha banker Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling). Vennett talks outspoken hedge funder Mark Baum (Steve Carell), who is dealing with personal and professional discrepancies, into betting against the housing market in hopes of finding the flaw in the system. This leads to complete mistrust in Wall Street.

At the same time, two young up-and-coming financiers are trying to get in on the game, to the dismay of their mentor (Brad Pitt).

It is a film with terms such as CDOs (collaterized debt organization) and credit default swipe. As Gosling points out, Wall Street is not hard to understand, though those on the inside will do whatever it takes to make the concept confusing.

McKay and co-screenwriter Charles Randolph are almost fighting a losing battle taking on a subject that others do not understand to this day. Yet, they have delivered a clever and scathingly indicting film elevated by incredibly goofy performances from a well-versed ensemble.

McKay knows hearing old men talking hedge funds is a toxic approach to the subject. To compensate, attractive pop culture figures like Margot Robbie (laying in a bath) and Selena Gomez break the fourth wall to explain the terms in colorful ways. These cutaways are some of the most amusing scenes in the movie.

Granted, for those not versed at all in Wall Street talk, not all of these terms will register as easy to follow as it will be for others. But, there is so much more here that is entertaining that more than compensates.

In this wonderful cast (all of whom give great performances), Carell sticks out the most. His dry sense of humor and potential to burst gives Carell more to do than he has ever done before. His balance of multiple emotions makes him the most empathetic and the most entertaining.   Another standout is Bale, whose complete mess of a smart man is beyond hilarious.

The greatest aspect of this film is its rapid-fire, beautiful editing by Hank Corwin. McKay has chosen to shoot this film “Office” style, where the camera rarely stays still and close-ups make you believe that these characters are about to address the audience directly. No scene ever feels like it goes on for too long. The film is cut with pre-made footage and photographs that emphasize each scene and none of it feels distracting. It is almost like poetry.

The Big Short’s big concepts may be a confounding subject, but it has never been more entertaining.

Rating: 8/10

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