OP-ROB RATING: LEGEND
“The Big Short” is a film directed by Adam McKay about a few geniuses who decided to “short” the housing market before its infamous crash in 2008. McKay, whose well-known films include “Anchorman”, “Talladega Nights”, “Step Brothers” and “The Other Guys”, utilizes his knack for comedy throughout the film. However, “The Big Short” is serious in its overall scope. The main characters confront real problems and display incredible complexity. The catalyst behind the short was a hedge fund manager named Dr. Michael Burry, who is played by Christian Bale. Burry’s gutsy move prompted a trader named Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and another hedge fund manager named Mark Baum (Steve Carell) to follow in the same direction. Finally, two upstart investors named Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) also shorted the housing market with the help of a more experienced investor named Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt).
Before seeing “The Big Short”, I really had no idea how the housing market worked, or even what it meant to “short” something. The film does an excellent job of explaining these topics as well as more nuanced aspects of the housing market such as the role of Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO’s) and AAA mortgage ratings and a slew of other confusing topics. McKay manages to have a ton of fun with the necessary but otherwise boring explanations in the film. For example, there is a scene where Margot Robbie describes subprime loans while sipping champagne in a bubble bath. In another scene Jared Vennett stacks up a tower of Jenga blocks to help Baum's hedge fund visualize the housing market's structure. Regardless of the actual events, this approach is extremely effective and totally unique. It gives "The Big Short" a boost of energy by tackling subjects that could easily bog down the flow of the film and bore the audience.
The story takes place from 2005 to 2008 and another intriguing technique in the "Big Short" is how McKay shows the passing of time. Instead of using inter titles or narration, there are flashes of pop culture videos and sound bites from celebrities to show how the country was changing and kept distracted while the bomb that was the housing market ticked away. This method is entertaining, but also allows McKay to critique another aspect of American culture. One of the opening lines of the film points out that Burry saw the inevitable downfall of the housing market because he did what no one else did, or wanted to do, "he looked". Perhaps the Britney Spears interview and Ludacris rap video exemplify that American culture is such that we'd rather “enjoy the show” than face reality. This goes for the greedy bankers and innocent civilians alike.
Aside from the undeniably amusing and effective style of "The Big Short", the strongest asset of the film can be found in the characters. Christian Bale and Steve Carell turn in moving performances as Michael Burry and Mark Baum. Both men are eccentric and awkward in their own ways, but each also faces personal battles that transcend the initially comical feeling of the film. In all the movies I've seen I have never experienced such polarization in the use of comedy and drama as in "The Big Short”, it is both a laugh-out-loud comedy and a leave-the-theater-in-dead-silence drama.
I've seen the “The Big Short” three times now. The first was with my ideologically and politically conservative parents. The second time I saw it on a date with a wicked smart, super pretty girl. And the third time, I was with some guys from my college fraternity. Three separate experiences, three different kinds of movie companions, but each time I was seeing the same movie. Why am I telling you all of this? Well, I guess what I'm trying to say is that this film is accessible. Its versatility is extremely rare and that is what makes the film so great. Seldom do you come across a well acted, concise, hilarious, moving, and culturally important film that can reach so wide an audience. "Spotlight" is still my movie of the year, but "The Big Short" is the kind of film I'll watch again and again. Re-watchability is something that often comes at the price of depth and "The Big Short" manages to beat the odds.
- S/O to Rex for the recommendation.