Based on a true story and the book written by financial journalist Michael Lewis (Moneyball) set in the mid-2000s during the subprime mortgage crisis, The Big Short educates and entertains audiences thanks to fantastic material, cast and crew.
This poignant financial drama centers on three main stories with authentic emotion and brutal truths of U.S. financial systems. Loud brash behavior and ignorant bliss blends well as director Adam McKay (Anchorman) makes his dramatic directorial film a memorable one.
Written by Charles Randolph and McKay, this 2 hour and 10 minute film fill the dialogue with passionate speeches and frequent profanity as filmmakers pull no punches to accurately portray the Wall Street world. The financial jargon does not overwhelm as filmmakers explain each element to audiences who will definitely react as the characters weave The Big Short into a tight, memorable narrative.
Certain actors consistently break the plain by delivering key dialogue while looking directly at the audience. It’s an unpredictable and rare approach that helps audiences relate to the material (e.g. subprime, tranche, CDOs, etc.) quicker and lightens the load of potentially heavy-handed social and/or political undertones.
Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett who is actually based on trader Greg Lippmann. Gosling delivers great one-liners and personifies the playfulness of breaking the “fourth wall”, which, in basic theatrical/performance terms, is the imaginary wall of a box set, separating the actors from the audience. Vennett works with another group lead by Mark Baum to capitalize on an idea from Dr. Michael Burry, well played by Christian Bale in yet another Oscar® nominated role.
Audiences get a great view of Burry’s background, brilliance, and anguish while they follow his daily activities as an investment fund manager who admittedly is not very good at social interactions, which is why his actions cause such a firestorm.
Burry talks about his wife and her helpful advice, but never see her only hear her in one interior sequence as Burry drums. Burry also swims and has a casual dress code, which masks his genius idea from everyone else. His pleas for a willing audience then participants should relate with almost every audience member.
Baum is played by Steve Carell in an Oscar worthy performance and is based on money manager Steve Eisman. A very personal tragedy puts Baum’s involvement in the highly emotional realm, which is only occasionally overplayed as audiences learn the most through his interactions, especially at a Las Vegas financial convention.
Marisa Tomei plays Baum’s wife Cynthia and Adepero Oduye (12 Years a Slave) plays Baum’s boss Cathy who initially conveys Baum’s “special” disposition outside their office building and has the gravitas to relay the ultimate financial news that brings the narrative to a climax
Unbroken actors John Magaro and Finn Wittrock play financial upstarts Charlie Gellar and Jamie Shipley, also seek to cash in on Burry’s beliefs as they try to get a seat at the table to make some big investments. They get some great assistance from Ben Rickert, played by Brad Pitt who also co-produced this film. Rickert is based on Ben Hockett and provides a decent moral center to the plot. Pitt also co-produces the film.
“They’re not confessing. They’re bragging,” Baum’s group says after meeting two greedy mortgage brokers played by Max Greenfield (TV’s New Girl) and Billy Magnussen (Bridge of Spies). Melissa Leo also plays Georgia who works at Standard & Poor’s in one of many investigation scenes with Baum’s group. Disbelief, false value, and absolute fraud gradually turn an opportunistic experience into a nightmare as the financial collapse has a deep emotional impact on all the characters.
Cameos by Margot Robbie, Chef Anthony Bourdain and economist Dr. Richard Thaler with Selena Gomez explain complex financial situations in an entertaining way plus Michael Burry himself even gets a cameo role. McKay also intersperses memorable quotes (e.g. Mark Twain, etc.) with backdrops of real footage.
Two of the three groups get together in the story (Burry mainly flies solo), but they don’t need to because the story anchors the film. Audiences do not need a clever twist just so each main character can meet the other like some kind of reunion situation. A well-researched, deep story like this one deserves the central focus. These characters only become well-made tuning forks so the true story can ring through.
The main characters literally speak to the audience plus filmmakers combine montages and realistic cinematography where the lighting occasionally shifts for a unique documentary-type style. McKay’s only notable misstep is an exterior sequence during a school football game, which takes too long to orient the viewer into a clear path and purpose for the sequence.
Audiences again visit the theater to experience the phenomena of a well-known story (Apollo 13, Titanic) for the journey and maybe expand their understanding of it (e.g. the problem solving behind Apollo 13, the events/decision making in Titanic). This story never insults the audience’s intelligence and takes the time to explain each element.
Individual social, civic, and moral views can all culminate into this enveloping story of Wall Street system corruption that doomed U.S. citizens who just wanted the basic essentials of housing and fair financial assistance.
Songs from Ludacris, Gorillaz, and Danger Mouse capture the timeline well along with several pop culture clips while the film’s editor Hank Corwin definitely earns his Oscar nomination by negotiating the narrative and unique camera transitions like white out blends, panning close-ups and quick montage cuts among the main sequences.
Oscar nominated for Best Picture, The Big Short comes highly recommended (***1/2 out of four stars) for a high energy approach to a complicated story full of fearful business practices that ruined lives and gouged the national economy. Rated R for profanity and some sexuality/nudity.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler