Film Review – ‘The Big Short’ (2015)

The big short

Remember that economic crisis the world suffered in 2008? Wasn’t that hilarious? “The Big Short” seems to think so.

That’s fine – it’s not really what’s wrong with this movie. It happened, it’s in the past, so lets bring some levity to the heavy topic. Maybe that’s why  Adam McKay, the director of the “Anchorman” movies, “Step Brothers” and an actually good Will Ferrell movie called “The Other Guys,” was given this film to helm. He’s able to bring some whiz-bang energy to it but on the whole, “The Big Short” is a bit too unfocused.

The screenplay by Charles Randolph and McKay – based on the book by Michael Lewis (who wrote the books that inspired”Moneyball” and “The Blind Side”), features rapid-fire exchanges loaded with finance terms, spelling out what these characters mean. Do you know what a synthetic CDO is? I sure didn’t. Still don’t.

An A-list, committed cast are thrown into the tapestry of plots and sub-plots, all ready to reignite the anger of 2008. Ryan Gosling, as the slick, fast-talking banker Jared Vennett opens the film. He sets the stage and lets us know what is ahead. We then meet Michael Burry (Christian Bale), an eccentric doctor, who would later become a hedge-fund manager (but still refer to himself as Michael Burry, M.D.) He crunches the numbers and looks at his spreadsheets and begins to feel a sense of great unease. Something is wrong – there is a crisis looming.

Steve Carell plays Mark Baum, a high-strung, easily angered money manager, who is sick of working on Wall Street but still claims he loves his job when his wife (Marisa Tomei) asks him to quit. He strikes a deal with Jared and begins digging into the housing crisis and looking into all of the unpaid mortgages. Brad Pitt shows up as a paranoid outsider, who takes two young guys (Finn Wittrock and John Magaro) under his wing, reluctantly.

I’ve boiled the plot down the bare minimum. There is no denying the time and research that went into bringing “The Big Short” to life but for a film about an important and difficult time in recent history, my only question was “what was the point?” Sure, the film sets out to inform but it does a lot of lecturing and finger-pointing. It doesn’t trust that the audience would understand what the characters are saying, so why not bring in Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain – all playing themselves – to explain everything in a cutaway shot. It’s all structured very awkwardly.

The cast is what really infuses “The Big Short” with energy. Everyone is totally capable and ready to fire on all cylinders but Carell is the undeniable standout in the film. Mark Baum is an angry, beaten down man and Carell plays him with palpable anger and frustration. He was the character I was consistently interested in.

It’s fair to assume a great deal of “The Big Short” went over my head. At 130 minutes, a lot of information is thrown at you and keeping up with all of it is like cramming for a final the night before the exam; it’s not all going to stick. There have been more interesting films made about this time (just this year, the tense and under-seen “99 Homes” was set against the housing crisis). “The Big Short” is well-intentioned but plays out too aimlessly.

“The Big Short” rates 4 out of 10 

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