Sunday, December 13, 2015

Review: The Big Short

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
When Adam McKay's economic and housing bubble collapse drama "The Big Short" isn't making you laugh, it's informing you and, most likely, making you madder than hell. The film goes a long way - perhaps, during a few scenes, a little too long - in explaining just exactly what caused the 2008 worldwide economic meltdown and it's the type of picture from which you can generally learn something. And it does so in a way that's vastly entertaining.

The picture, which is based on the book by Michael Lewis, follows three different stories between the years of 2005 and 2008 as several intelligent hedge fund managers and Wall Street traders predicted the impending collapse and either profited by it or went ignored when they attempted to warn others. The film's cast is all terrific, especially Steve Carell as the loudmouthed and temperamental Mark Baum (based on Steve Eisman), a money manager who is appalled at the greed that results in the collapse.

In his story, he and his small group of employees at the fund where he works decides to get in on the action with Ryan Gosling's smarmy mortgage trader, mostly as revenge against the banking industry that he so despises. Gosling's character is technically the film's narrator, but Carell's Baum is its - for lack of a better word - moral conscience.

In another story, two young hedge fund kids attempting to break into the world of Wall Street enlist a former trader (Brad Pitt), who helps them bet against the economy. And Christian Bale plays a quirky physician with a fake eye who is a genius at numbers crunching and analysis who, much to the horror of the bigwigs at the hedge fund he manages, bets against the housing market, which costs his hedge fund in the short term, but could potentially pay off in an insane amount in the long term.

McKay, whose previous films include "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights," can't resist finding the humor in the scenario, which ended up being anything but a joke, costing eight million jobs, the loss of six million homes and decades of 401K contributions gone down the drain.

Amusingly, McKay enlists celebrities to pop up out of the blue - but announced by Gosling's character - to explain the confusing phraseology designed by Wall Street for the purpose of baffling the average person. So, we've got everyone from Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez to Anthony Bourdain explaining to us what "sub prime" and "collateralized debt obligation" mean.

This is a film that tells us horrifying details of a catastrophe not long in our rear view mirror. And what makes it so terrifying is that it not only describes in great detail how Wall Street greed led to our nation's economic collapse, but also how those responsible avoided any punishment and how, if you can believe it, they're preparing to do the same thing all over again.

This is an intelligent, entertaining and righteously angry film that I'd argue should be essential viewing for anyone with a stake in the future of this country. It's a very good movie.

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