The Big Short Film Review: Finding The Funny In The Financial Crisis

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Tweetable Takeaway: Equal parts comedic and horrific, TheBigShort has a crackling script that’ll have you laughing and weeping.


How funny can a movie about the 2008 financial crisis possibly be? How moving and important a film can Adam McKay, known best for Will Ferrell movies like Anchorman and Step Brothers, conceivably make? The answers to both questions are more surprising than one might expect. Sure, it’s got a stellar cast (Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, and Christian Bale), but we’ve seen plenty of bad movies happen to great casts. Of course, the cast certainly elevates the whole affair, along with a crackling, rapid-fire script that takes a different look at the housing financial crisis that began in 2007. Our perspective throughout the movie is through the individuals (or eccentric weirdos, as the movie puts it) who actually saw the bubble burst coming, and sought to profit from it. Although it packs plenty of dark laughs, especially in the beginning, before you know it the movie has slowly coiled an infuriating recap of those years, one that’ll have any viewer having to restrain him or herself from throwing something at the screen in anger. Along the way, The Big Short manages to be one of the best films of the year.

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The movie kicks us off with introductions to each of its lovable weirdos. Among them is brilliant Michael Burry (Bale) who lives in his office, wearing the same clothes every day and brushing his teeth while on the phone with his boss. After flipping through spreadsheets of mortgages, Burry realizes that once adjustable interest rates kick in, tons of mortgages are going to default. Burry goes to banks to bet against the housing market, and the banks are incredulous at Burry. There’s no way the housing market will ever collapse, they say, and so they take his money more than willingly and laugh as Burry leaves. As we now know, Burry was completely right.

Others catch wind of Burry’s credit default swaps, and get on board themselves. In addition to Burry we have Mark Baum (Carell) and his team of financiers who continue to uncover the depth of what was occurring with the housing market. And it’s not just a rat’s nest Baum uncovers, it’s a veritable world of rats, grubs, and any other disgusting organism one can think up. And the way in which the movie unfolds it all is brilliant and horrifying. At every scene some new piece of information crops up, the tension ratchets up another notch, sometimes two, and we feel the noose tightening around all our necks. Suddenly, we realize what we’re watching isn’t so funny and kooky, but truly serious.

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As Baum and others realize, it’s not just about making a quick buck, or betting against any market. They are all betting against the American economy, and perhaps the world economy as well. The stakes don’t get much higher than that. What’s worse, we know what happens and can’t stop it from happening. In most movies, knowing the ending deflates the suspense. Here, it fuels the fire of rage over the powerlessness both we and the characters have. Even seeing the events coming isn’t enough to help in any way to stop them. Not that our protagonists in The Big Short are trying particularly hard to do so, anyway, but they’re most certainly the lesser of two evils. And even though the movie throws around industry jargon like confetti at a parade, it’s never overwhelming. There are three moments the movie calls in celebrities to explain in layman’s terms concepts the film talks about, and they work hilariously and brilliantly. Through much of the movie, Ryan Gosling’s character breaks the fourth wall to speak to the audience, and ends up being both the funniest and best parts of the film.

And yet, as we watch these miscreants bet against the banks, and say, ‘look, banks, the joke was on you the whole time’, the movie makes it abundantly clear that the joke is on us, the viewers. The banks get bailed out, bonuses are still given, and millions of regular citizens pay the price in lost jobs, houses, money, and opportunity. Most of the performances are slick and capable, but it’s Carell whose point of view we most identify with: he realizes the impact of what’s occurred, and the loss of humanity we very well suffered. The Big Short makes a fine companion piece to 2010’s documentary Inside Job, which may have less Gosling but certainly more explanation of the events of the financial crisis. The Big Short provides a lighter, but no-less important perspective.

I give The Big Short 4.5 fourth-wall breaks out of 5

Score:  4.5 out of 5

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Wil lives, breathes, and loves movies. On applications he will often list the movie theater as his second residence, and the usher as his emergency contact.
Twitter: @TheCantaLoper

Wil Loper | Contributor
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