How do you make a film about banking and the housing bust interesting? You start with casting Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt, then add a director known for comedy in Adam McKay to the mix and soon you’ve got the makings of The Big Short, a film that analyzes the fiscal irresponsibility of banks that led to the housing crisis of the mid-to-late 2000s.
The story centers on a trio of groups, each of which who had the wherewithal to dig a little deeper and see that something horrible was about to happen. It begins with eccentric financial analyst Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a man who is more at home in a t-shirt and playing metal songs on drums than showing up to the office in a suit. Burry has made his company a lot of money, but when he investigates the housing market and spots a trend of people defaulting on loans, he’s convinced that at some point the housing market will collapse. As such, he decides to approach some of the top banking institutions who almost laugh him out of the office when he wants to sell short on bundled mortgages. In fact, they’re more than willing to take the millions he’s willing to invest, which puts his own company on the line. To say the least, his investors are none too happy, but he’s put them in a place where they must commit to his vision.
The second group consists of Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), a banker who gets wind of Burry’s prospectus and knows that there’s something to it. Seeing a way to make money, he starts pitching the idea to a number of groups, but like Burry, he’s laughed out of most pitches until he comes across a financial team led by Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his associates (Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong and Hamish Linklater), who listen to his pitch, do their own investigating and decide to go in with him in shorting the market.
The third group consists of up-and-coming bankers Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock), who are looking for a seat at the big table but have come up horribly short. But when they catch wind of Vennett’s prospectus, they too see an opportunity. They reach out to their neighbor Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), a former banker at a major bank who has lost his taste for it. They convince Rickert that they see something that nobody else does and he agrees to help them get their ISDA and pursue their goal.
While it may seem that these three storylines, which never really intersect, would be hard to follow, McKay makes it all work with snappy dialogue and very few lulls in the storyline. Using the device of breaking the fourth wall helps as well as the characters address the audience along the way. And while you may worry that all the banking terms may be above your head, even that is broached in a clever way to help audiences follow along.
The Big Short plays out like a mystery that we already know the answer to, but the journey in getting there is where all the fun is at. It’s equally entertaining and horrific to think about as we learn how the housing bubble came to burst and even more terrifying when we learn the results of the actions taken by the banking industry. Though an ensemble piece, Carell’s Mark Baum is a ticking timebomb that is infinitely watchable, and Gosling’s Jared Vennett oozes the type of confidence he gave in the film Crazy Stupid Love. Meanwhile, Bale could turn some heads with a supporting actor nod for his ill at ease visionary. If you’re banking on The Big Short this Oscar season, you could come up a winner.
Posted by AC