By Jack Ryan, Senior Staff Writer
“The Big Short” is the story of a few men who predicted the 2008 financial crisis — an event that ruined hundreds of thousands of lives and nearly destroyed the world economy — and proceeded to bet millions against the United States economy. It’s also one of the funniest movies of the year.
Beginning with Michael Burry’s (Christian Bale) discovery of the housing bubble, “The Big Short” follows the intertwined actions of three groups of investors who individually begin to unravel the enormous corruption surrounding the housing market. As they continue to search, the magnitude of the inevitable market crash grows, simultaneously reassuring the chances of their gamble and, subsequently, the end of the financial world.
The most surprising attribute of “The Big Short” is its director, Adam McKay, who has directed nothing but Will Ferrell movies to this point — granted, they have been some of Ferrell’s best (“Anchorman,” “The Other Guys”). While still making a laugh-out-loud quality comedy, McKay also pulls off the directorial equivalent of acting off-type, creating dramatic scenes that effectively silence the hilarity of the film.
McKay also manages to shine as the film’s co-writer (alongside Charles Randolph), adapting Michael Lewis’ complex book and making it not only coherent, but also enjoyable for the average viewer. McKay and Randolph fill the film with interesting devices to keep the viewer aware. A Jenga tower becomes our mental visualization of the housing market, and actress Margot Robbie, who isn’t a character in the film, explains the futility of subprime loans from the comfort of a bubble bath (no, seriously).
The cast works their openly flawed characters to perfection, creating humor and sentiment out of their unabashed egos. Christian Bale, the human chameleon, is, once again, like you’ve never seen him before as Burry, an eccentric glass-eyed hedge fund manager. Bale perfectly mixes a misunderstood nature with Burry’s self-absorption and adamancy to create a dislikable character that still manages to command our pity.
On the other end of the spectrum is Steve Carell’s Mark Baum, a hedge fund manager who really doesn’t care if you like him or not. Carell’s strong dramatic streak continues here, as his general fury and annoyance pushes the film forward for much of the runtime. Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt also give less accentuated, but equally strong performances as Jared Vennett, a young trader, and Ben Rickert, a retired banker, respectively.
Although these four actors are top-billed for promotional purposes, “The Big Short” carries a strong ensemble cast at its core, backed both by young up-and-comers Finn Wittrock and John Magaro, as well as seasonable veterans Marisa Tomei and Melissa Leo in supporting roles.
“The Big Short” brilliantly mocks the “based on a true story” genre that continues to populate December theaters and garner Oscar nominations. Multiple times in the story, Jared Vennett — our narrator — will nudge the audience’s shoulder via voiceover and remind us that this actually, truly happened, or in some cases even throw the screenwriters themselves under the bus by unraveling the fictionalized segments of his own story.
This powerful dramedy is greatly reinforced by the Oscar-nominated editing of Hank Corwin. Corwin’s editing is quick, accessible and effective, blending conventional and shaky cam shots to create a vérité feel. Perhaps Corwin’s strongest contribution comes in the form of time-passing montages that detail the events of the early 2000s, serving as a reminder of the recent reality of these events less than 10 years ago.
Although it does begin to drag in the final 15 minutes, “The Big Short” is the kind of movie that makes you grind your teeth in disappointment but smile at the hilarity you have just witnessed, the hallmark of a bittersweet film.
When “The Big Short” is juxtaposed with its fellow modern biopic “Spotlight,” it’s like looking at two brothers that bring out the best in each other. “The Big Short” is enjoyable, yet nauseating; “Spotlight” is nauseating, yet enjoyable, each more so because of the other. Corruption is still alive and well in the world today — go see for yourself.
“The Big Short” is nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.