“The Big Short” (2015)
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Ever wonder what caused the banking crisis of 2008 to happen? You know the one where major banks collapsed and died, where millions of people lost their homes and their jobs. Why were people given home mortgages that they couldn’t afford to keep even if everything went right? “The Big Short” is a film about the banking crisis that happened in 2008. How a few investors figured out that it was going to happen, and risked their life savings and the goodwill of their customers, betting on the fact that something that was thought as impossible would happen. It’s a film that will make you laugh one moment and make you mad in another, as you shake your head wondering how we allowed the crisis to happen and how almost no one paid for their sins, except the naive customers that thought they could have a part of the American dream.
We meet hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christopher Nolan) at the start of the film. Burry is a man who is rarely wrong, making millions for his boss and his clients. He is a brilliant but strange man, someone who rarely has shoes on, wears T-shirts to the office and listens to heavy metal as he searches for the next great investment. He is a man who is socially awkward, having lost an eye in a childhood illness, making him feel self-conscious. He is a former doctor who quit his practice when he discovered he could make money crunching numbers, crushing the completion with his astute picks. He discovers that the housing market, considered the backbone of the American economy, is about to collapse upon itself, a market that has very few sure things and way too many mortgages which are certain to fail. Burry figures out a way to bet on the fact that the housing market and the banks that invest in it are about to be in a lot of trouble. It’s a bet that few think is a good idea, and most think will never come into play.
A banking investor, Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who doesn’t have the most sterling reputation, finds out about Burry’s investment idea and brings it to maverick investor Mark Baum (Steve Carell). Baum is a man who is known for his temper and his contempt of the investment system that takes advantage of the small investor for the large investor’s gain. Baum is haunted by a personal tragedy, and it’s that tragedy that makes him work so hard. A third set of investors get wind of Burry’s idea, two young, small-time investors (John Magaro, Finn Wittrock), who see Burry’s investment as a way to play with the big boys. All three investor groups are about to go on a journey that will take America to the brink of financial collapse, but not before a lot of people have made and lost a lot of money.
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Director / co-writer Adam McKay has brought us a film that is dark, funny and unconventional in its storytelling. Often the actors break the “fourth-wall” to talk directly to the audience, sometimes commenting on what has just gone down. That use of the breaking the “fourth wall” is used very often to tweak the nose of the filmmaker himself, as characters often tell us that the filmmaker has changed something from what really happened to make it more dramatic for the film. The film uses very funny cameos (I won’t say who or what settings they are placed in) to explain some of the extremely complex financial terms and ideas that are crucial to the film. The film also uses montages with bits of cultural references to put the audience in the mood for the timeline. McKay wants you to have fun watching this film, but he also wants to inform you and make you pissed. He made this film with the hope that the American people will get mad when they find out just what happened and why it did. The film also can be very sobering, with images of people living in cars or whole neighborhoods abandoned by the families who couldn’t afford the houses they had moved into. And McKay uses the film to make you indignant or irate, like a scene where Baum is interviewing two real estate brokers that delight in making money off the naive or the uninformed. The two revel in talking couples into taking mortgages that the two money grabbers know they will never be able to afford.
This is an ensemble film, and it’s filled with some superb performances. Bale is outstanding in portraying a man that I am convinced has Asperger’s syndrome. His close-ups as he struggles to understand a conversation or why someone wouldn’t want to invest with him are brilliant and moving. Brad Pitt is fun as a retired, eccentric broker that decides to take the two young brokers under his wing and help them hit the big time. It’s a restrained performance that Pitt plays to perfection. Gosling, as the brash broker that no one likes, gives a hysterical performance as the guy who has nothing to lose and lets you know it. However, this is Steve Carell’s film, playing his part with an almost hound dog-like determination. Carell lets his character hide his pain inside while he remains angry with the world. The only person that seems to be able to reach him is his wife, played by the always fascinating and brilliant Marisa Tomei. Carell plays his character like he is working at 100 mph, and the rest of us are watching at a normal rate as he speeds from one deal to another. Carell steals the film near the end as his character agonizes over whether to cash his hand in, therefore, making millions and millions of dollars on other people’s loss and pain.
“The Big Short” is a film similar in tone to something like 2013s “The Wolf of Wall Street.” It’s a movie that will make you laugh at some over-the-top situations and make you mad about the injustice of a very corrupt system that no one seems to want to fix, and no one will be prosecuted for the wrongs they committed. It’s a film that entertains while informing you all the while marveling at the incredible performances. It’s a story that needed to be told and seems almost impossible to be real. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
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