The trailers for THE BIG SHORT let you know just how star-studded the cast was, with Oscar nominees all over the place. It would be a monumental failure to have this set of actors and end up with anything less than an entertaining movie with lots of great performances. And by almost all accounts, it is a great film. Best Picture worthy, in fact. But that shuld come as no surprise.
What I wasn’t expecting was for it to be so informative.
While I realize that every viewer comes into the theater with their own level of understanding on investing, the topic still promised to be some thick material to get across without causing heads to spin. To give audiences enough reason to be appropriately enraged about the situation at hand and to appreciate what the characters were doing to fight it, there was quite a bit of information to convey about sub-prime mortgages and investing. Wall Street began to implode by their own doing and as a result, financial institutions were going bankrupt around the world. This is one of the most significant financial crises of the past 75 years, and to turn it into a movie made for the general public was a tall task.
And they succeeded, in spades.
The book “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine” by Michael Lewis serves as the source material for this film, and once again the man who wrote Moneyball found a way to take a concept filled with math, statistics, probability and finance and make it consumable by the general public. He did so by focusing on an eclectic group of investors who made millions betting against the system.
It helps that in the director and co-writer spot he had Adam McKay, best known for his work with Will Farrell and Funny Or Die. Together, they found ways to inject plenty of comedy into the storyline that their brilliant cast delivered as you would expect each to do.
The first thread in the film centers on Christian Bale as a former doctor who is great with finding trends and enjoys listening to heavy metal music at blaring volumes to help him think. He found the issues with the sub-prime mortgages, and although he’s not good at communicating the issues to other people, he is the one who gets the ball rolling at investment firms. The quirky character also goes through an emotional rollercoaster over the course of the film, as the investors who help fund his investment company don’t understand his vision and want to shut things down.
Where Bale’s character fails in communicating with his colleagues the method to his madness, Ryan Gosling’s slick-yet-slightly-unpolished salesman succeeds. His scenes are some of the best in the film, and he also provides narrator services as he breaks the 4th wall and introduces outside help to explain to theater-goers about the potentially confusing concepts. The filmmakers employ the services of Margot Robbie (in a bubble bath, nonetheless) and a few others to help us understand what’s going on, and it’s done brilliantly in a non-distracting way (or as non-distracting as Margot Robbie in a bubble bath can be).
Steve Carell shares the thread with Ryan Gosling, and his character is perhaps the most meaty in the film in terms of depth, as he’s dealing with a death in the family for which he feels somewhat responsible. He’s the on-screen embodiment of the frustration and anger theater-goers should be feeling as they begin to understand just how much corruption exists in the banks and big name investment firms. As he seeks to understand what is going on and explain it to the other guys in his small company of investors, the information is passed to us in ways that make it easier to comprehend. It’s so effortless that when you look back and realize how they accomplished such a feat, you’ll understand the true genius of the product put to screen.
Through Brad Pitt’s character and a two-man investment team, you really get a sense of how the investing companies set up an environment which limits the ability of outsiders to get involved in trading, thus limiting the visibility that the world gets into the corruption and unethical dealings involved in their industry. He also reminds us, by reminding the two young men who he helps get to the proverbial table, about the heartbreaking story of the innocent individuals who lost quite a bit due to the banks and investment firms collapsing.
The Big Short is far more than just one of the best pictures of 2015. It should be required viewing.
My Rating: 92 out of 100