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Dan's Review: Bitter laughs aplenty in "The Big Short"

Dec 23, 2015 01:24AM ● Published by Dan Metcalf

Christian Bale in The Big Short - © 2015 Paramount Pictures

The Big Short (Paramount)

Rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity.

Starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Melissa Leo, Hamish Linklater, John Magaro, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, Marisa Tomei, Finn Wittrock, Stanley Wong, Byron Mann, Tracy Letts, Karen Gillan, Selena Gomez, Max Greenfield, Margot Robbie.

Written by Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, based on the book by Michael Lewis.

Directed by Adam McKay.

GRADE: A-

REVIEW:

Some comedies are easy to laugh at, while others make you wonder if you should be laughing. The Big Short (based on Michael Lewis’ best-selling book) is one of those movies that induces laughter, but also makes you wonder what was so funny about the 2007 economic disaster, fueled by the housing bubble burst.

The Big Short is the story of a small group of people who saw the bubble burst coming, and profited handsomely for it. The first person to sound the alarm was an ex-neurologist wunderkind turned financial advisor named Michael Burry (Christian Bale), who predicted that the housing bubble was prime for disaster. Insisting that many major lending institutions (Lehman Brothers, AIG, Bear Stearns, CitiGroup, Deutsche Bank, etc.) were about to be exposed for backing bundles of blue chip mortgages along with awful ones, Burry convinces several the lenders to go in on mortgage insurance deals that would allow him and his investors to profit should the banks fail.

Meanwhile, other groups are also sniffing out ways to profit from the pending economic disaster, including a hedge fund manager named Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) and a pair of young businessmen fresh out of college named Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock), who are advised and guided by a former trader extraordinaire named Ben (Brad Pitt). Baum is brought to the table by a Deutsche Bank trader named Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling).

As the housing market begins to unravel, the truth about what the banks were doing by bundling bad loans with good ones comes to light, and the dominoes fall in favor of those who bet against the U.S. economy.

The Big Short is big on laughs, albeit with a substantial amount of bitter aftertaste, especially if you remember or were a direct victim of the 2007-08 collapse. Adam McKay and Charles Randolph’s script is full of biting humor delivered by some very talented actors like Carrell, Bale, Pitt and Gosling. Mckay (who also directs the film) relies on some very clever and funny ways to explain complex financial terms like CDOs (collateralized debt obligation) and bundling by using visuals and vocabulary that can be understood by lay folk. One example is the moment when Margot Robbie (as herself) explains sub-prime loans while sitting in a bubble bath. Another is Selena Gomez explaining other complex and dubious aspects of the banking/housing collapse while playing cards at a casino. These creative cameos are tongue-in-cheek, but get the point across.

Still, the financial collapse of 2007-08 was no laughing matter, even though Adam McKay (known for irreverent comedies usually starring his pal Will Ferrell - like Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, Anchorman 1&2, The Other Guys, etc.) allows for plenty of rage, too.


The Big Short Trailer

Arts+Entertainment movies movie reviews Finance Housing Mortgage
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