THE BIG SHORT (USA/15A/130mins)
Directed by Adam McKay. Starring Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Melissa Leo, Hamish Linklater, Rafe Spall, Marisa Tomei.
THE PLOT: It’s 2005, and all is well in the world of finance. The property market, in particular, is booming. Really booming. It’s a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by hedge fund managers Mark Baum (Carell) and Michael Burry (Bale), as well as trader Jared Vennett (Gosling) and money-management operators Charlie Geller (Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Wittrock), who each separately recognise that a hard rain is a-gonna fall. And with it, potentially, one humungous downpour of money.
And so it is that the five bet against the huge mortgages that have been repackaged into grossly overvalued financial products. Hmmm, wonder how they did…?
THE VERDICT: Wall Street having long been synonymous with those who not only see a silver lining on a black cloud but know how to mine it, ‘The Big Short’ is a sharp, witty and cutting comic drama about a small gang of Bottom-Of-The-Ocean’s 11 traders and fund managers who made a mint by gambling on the economic collapse of 2008. Whereas Oliver Stone’s Wall Street outings and Scorsese’s more recent Wolf Of Wall Street portrayed hard-nosed, dick-waving financial sharks in full flight though, this true-life story finds our would-be Gekkos largely awkward, and highly unlikely to inspire any t-shirts amongst the next generation of financial whizzkids.
That McKay – some distance from his regular collaborations with buddy and production partner Will Ferrell – manages to make the world of subprime mortgages, credit default swaps and other such financial skulduggery digestible here is a credit to a tight script (co-written by McKay with Charles Randolph, and based on Michael Lewis’ 1989 book, Liar’s Poker). It’s a smart script that doesn’t shy away from the super-smart details.
Ultimately though, McKay tries a little too hard to entertain, a move that robs ‘The Big Short’ of some of its potential punch. Still, you walk away knowing that McKay’s heart – and his boot – were in the right place. RATING: 3/5
Review by Paul Byrne

The Big Short
Review by Paul Byrne
3.0Smartly scripted
  • filmbuff2011

    Recently nominated for five Oscars, The Big Short presents an intriguing change of pace for director Adam McKay. Best known as the man behind the Anchorman films and Hollywood’s go-to guy for films featuring its most famous comedians, McKay has hit gold with thinking man’s financial comedy The Big Short.

    Covering the last 11 years of the global financial crisis, it starts in New York in 2005. Narrated by slick, fast-talking Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), he relates how a number of traders and bankers had the foresight to predict a housing market collapse that eventually snowballed into the 2008 financial crisis that decimated the American and then the global economy. First up is eccentric physician-turned-investment-banker Michael Burry (Christian Bale), who lives out of his office and dresses as if going to the beach. By analysing the housing market, he predicted that the bad mortgage bonds that America’s housing market was built on would lead to a catastrophic collapse. He could then ‘short’ the market, i.e. bet against the American economy and make undreamt-of money from the banks, who were asleep at the wheel. Word spreads to a number of other traders, such as Jared, Mark Baum (Steve Carell), Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) and two young garage start-ups, Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock). This could be the biggest pay-off in financial history…

    Don’t worry if you don’t know much about the stock market and finance. This is quite an accessible film, even for the not-so-financially-minded like this reviewer. McKay keeps things tight and focused throughout, but he also gets to have some fun too. Every now and then Jared directs the audience to some familiar faces to explain complex financial terminology in layman’s terms. Though, paying attention
    while Margot Robbie pouts in a bathtub and explains mortgage securities can be tricky. Hopefully, some of it will get through.

    Based on the non-fiction book by Michael Lewis (Moneyball, The Blind Side), The Big Short asks many questions and doesn’t always answer them. The whole underlying idea of the film, that of why the financial crisis happened in the first place, is explored in a light-hearted but still probing way. Dodgy financial shenanigans haven’t been this much fun since Wall Street and Gordon Gekko’s ‘greed is good’ mantra. For all the laughs in the film though, there are some dark truths to be had. Millions of people lost their jobs and their homes and that’s no laughing matter. McKay achieves just the right balance, illustrating how the banks collapsed under the weight of their own greed and then had the nerve to ask ordinary people to re-capitalise them. Only one American banker has gone to jail since. Plus ca change.

    The ensemble performances are excellent throughout. Bolstered by some Oscar-winning and Oscar-nominated heavyweights, there are no false notes here. Each actor gets the tone right and doesn’t drop the ball. Bale, in a tricky role, is the stand-out. Gosling, in particular, has a lot of fun with his character (remember, he’s not the hero). For a film that’s over 2 hours long and is about the often dry world of high finance, it flies by and leaves you wanting more. The opening quote from Mark Twain pretty much sums up the film: ‘It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so’. Quite. The Big Short is smart, sharp as a razor, surprisingly funny and occasionally thought-provoking. McKay should think about doing more of these types of films. He’s certainly got the talent for it. ****

  • Joseph McCarthy

    A slightly comedic retelling of the great housing market crash in the US towards the end of the last decade that brought down more than one of the historic banks on Wall Street, and how three groups of people saw it coming and made money out of it. One of those films that stays with you long after the credits have rolled.

  • emerb

    “The Big Short” is based on the esteemed 2010 Michael Lewis nonfiction best seller,“The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” that chronicled the few individuals who foresaw the 2008 housing market crash and decided to figure out a way to make a profit from it. In his film, Director Adam McKay traces the roots of the global market crisis through the years leading up to the crash. Like the book, he focusses on just one handful of men in the field who were either very foresightful or very lucky but they made a fortune by being right about the home loan mortgage crisis that crippled the markets. Of all the current century’s most cataclysmic world events, the 2008 financial crisis is probably among the most poorly understood. From “Margin Call” to “The Wolf Of Wall Street”, numerous films about what led to the collapse and its ensuing ramifications have emerged but this film takes a vastly different and more radical approach. McKay (switching gear considerably from “Talladega Nights” and “Anchorman”) bombards us with facts, jargon and complex explanations but yet his film still manages to be both enlightening and entertaining.

    Spanning the years 2005 to 2008, we follow a small group of eccentric up and coming investment bankers who believed the bubble would burst. Greed leads them to profit from the impending doom by shorting or betting against the real estate sector. Those looking to cash in are played by Christian Bale, Ryan
    Gosling, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is the head of the Scion Capital Hedge fund. With his glass eye and an utter lack of social graces, he crunches numbers while pacing the office barefoot blasting loud heavy metal. He realises what’s coming and bets big on the bubble bursting, much to the consternation of his bosses and his clients. Mark Baum (Steve Carell) is a rude, loud-mouthed money manager who despises the greed and unethical practices of Wall Street. He meets Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling, also the film’s smug narrator), an arrogant and self-assured trader who convinces
    him that they can make a fortune betting against the banks’ mortgage bonds. Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), a retired trader, is coaxed by two up-and-coming investors (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock) to help them take advantage of
    this potential economic collapse. There are very few heroes in this film and in fact, McKay drives home the point that the crooks responsible are in fact, still among us.

    The starry cast does a good job of keeping the characters three-dimensional. Carell is superb as the constantly furious Baum, arguably the film’s lead. His character is the most genuine and empathetic, mostly having to do with a past trauma and his relationship to his wife. He’s the only one to express compunctions about getting rich from a looming catastrophe and Carell gives a strong dramatic performance throughout. McKay fills out his ensemble with fine actors in small but meaningful parts, including Marisa Tomei as Baum’s concerned wife and Melissa Leo as an S&P analyst with a vision condition.

    For me, “The Big Short” works well as an entertaining take on the economic dishonesty that prevailed during the boom. It manages to be consistently engaging because, while the material is serious, McKay lightens the tone by peppering the drama with humour, laughs and some quirky stylistic touches – using Jenga as a plot device, celebrity cameos as pointed commentary to help explain some of the economic jargon and even a scene with Mastodon followed by the theme from “Phantom of the Opera.” However, despite the draw of its all-star cast, it could be a risky bet at the box office. It’s unlikely to be an awards contender and during the festive season, it might be hard to convince movie goers that it’s worth going to see a movie about how we were all screwed by the reckless behaviour and greed of a minority of the highest paid financial gurus. Having said that, I enjoyed it. It works well as an ambitious, inventive and altogether clever condemnation of Wall Street and its inherent greed. McKay succeeds in informing the audience in a way that is accessible and this is largely thanks to the innovative format which gives a welcome balance between seriousness and sarcasm in the largely fact-based story.