Title: The Big Short
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Mr. Burns: "By the way, are you acquainted with our state's stringent usury laws?"
Mr. Burns: "Oh, silly me! I must have just made up a word that doesn't exist. Now, what is the purpose of this loan?"
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three sheets of Confederate currency out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: A handful of malcontents and financial dissenters profit handsomely off the 2008 financial crisis.
Tagline: "This is a true story."
Better Tagline: "You're not gonna lose the house. Everybody has three mortgages nowadays."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: In the years leading up to the financial crisis of 2007-2008, which resulted from — among other things — the bursting of the housing bubble coupled with the rise of subprime mortgages, a few folks, like hedge fund managers Michael Burry (Christian Bale) and Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) and trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), bucked conventional financial wisdom and their own clients by shorting the market and capitalizing on the ensuing collapse.
"Critical" Analysis: The Big Short, meaning the 2010 Michael Lewis book upon which this movie is based, did a great job of breaking down the incredible complexities involved with credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations (I can hear your eyes glazing over from here). It also offered insights into the kind of person who'd choose to go against the currents of the financial industry and eventually be rewarded for his efforts.
Adam McKay, who until this month had yet to direct a movie not starring Will Ferrell, focuses more on the former. And if there's an overarching criticism to make of "The Big Short The Movie," it's that McKay feels like the details need to be explained as if the audience is filled with Frank the Tanks.
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The approach, which involves using Selena Gomez, Anthony Bourdain and Margot Robbie (in a bathtub, a fact I'm contractually obligated to mention) to explain the basics of CDOs and mortgage-backed securities, is a novel one, and helps us laypeople get our heads around the instruments responsible for the crisis. At times, however, it can feel condescending.
The comedic tone of these scenes, and the way McKay works that into the principal characters' dawning horror at the disaster about to unfold, also doesn't work as well as he probably hoped it would. The factors that led to the Great Recession are, to be sure, outrageous, but not nearly as contemptuous as the attitude of the financial institutions involved.
The Big Short works better when focusing on the motivations of its characters. Burry, a former neurologist, sees profit from the coming collapse, pure and simple (and is apparently on the spectrum enough not to worry about the repercussions). Baum sees profit, too, but is also enough of an asshole to see how taking a contrary position might also stick it to an industry full of people who don't know what they're doing. Though, for whatever reason, Carrell and Gosling's characters are fictionalized versions of their real-life counterparts.
Brad Pitt, who plays a guru to a couple of up-and-coming traders, provides one of the few moments of introspection in the film when he tells his young charges they've "just bet against the American economy." The Big Short isn't a bad movie. It's well-acted and engaging more often than not, but it falls well short of generating any real emotion as it strives to engender indignation but never fully committing to the endeavor.