Take a Drink: each time a character says, “Mortgage bonds”.
Take a Drink: each time a character says, “CDO”.
Take a Drink: each time a character mentions one of the big investment banks.
Do a Shot: when a celebrity appears in a cameo to explain a financial term.
Shogun a Beer: when the plot of the film drives some of the characters to visit Vegas. Because it’s Vegas baby.
By: Amelia Solomon (Two Beers) –
The Big Short is based on the best-selling book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, written by Michael Lewis. Like the book, the film is a true story about the credit and housing market bubble that burst in 2007. It centers on four groups of people, working in the financial sector, which were able to predict the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, and use that foresight to make millions by betting against the banks.
The screenplay was co-written by Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, with McKay also picking up directorial duties. McKay has directed such Will Ferrell comedy vehicles as Anchorman and Step Brothers. It was a clever choice for McKay to direct a true story genre film about a subject many would struggle to grasp or find interesting. However, it’s this choice that makes the film engaging, fresh, and humorous. The movie also benefits from an all-star cast including Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt, whose production company, Plan B Entertainment, also produced the film.
The Big Short is downright funny at times and witty throughout. Whether it’s the main characters delivering one liners, the frat boy camaraderie of boys being boys on Wall Street, the sardonic narration by Gosling’s character, Jared Vennett, characters breaking the fourth wall like Ferris Bueller, and surprising cameos by Margo Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, and Selena Gomez playing themselves, the film works on a unique level, that if in the wrong hands could have failed miserably. It’s a delicate balance, and McKay was able elevate a film about a historical set of events into a smorgasbord of glitz.
The performances in The Big Short are the opposite of what one has normally seen from its stars. Each of the competent male actors plays a role completely against type. Christian Bale as Dr. Michael Burry, a hedge fund manager in California, is anti-social, disheveled, and on the Autism spectrum. Bale has transformed himself before, such as in The Fighter, but what typically comes to mind with Bale is a handsome, well put together man. Steve Carell plays Wall Street trader Mark Baum, a hard New Yorker, who steals people’s cabs and yammers on his cell-phone with no regard for anyone around him. Carell nails his accent and businessman demeanor, and reminded me of every man I’d seen commuting on the Long Island Rail Road into Penn Station, ready to face another tedious day in the concrete jungle of Manhattan.
Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett, an investor who spends all his off-hours at the gym, perfecting his look, talking in cheesy metaphors, and begging the audience to believe he’s not just another douchebag. Again, another far cry from the tortured but redeemable bad boy he often plays. Lastly, Brad Pitt shows up in a small role as a retired banker turned Professor Ben Rickert. Hiding out in Colorado with a shaggy beard and making salads from his own garden, he mentors two garage band investors Charlie Geller (Finn Wittrock) and Jamie Shipley (John Magaro). Leading role it is not, and he may have been unrecognizable if it weren’t for the large marketing campaign the film has behind it.
Although The Big Short is told in a linear fashion, and follows four story-lines that run congruent, and sometimes even intersect, there is an additional layer of parlor tricks added in. These include the aforementioned narration, breaking the fourth wall, celebrity cameos, stock footage, and documentary-like news-reels. But sometimes a little too much of everything is not a good thing. Although I credit McKay with finding a way to make the subject matter of default subprime mortgage loans sexy, all of the techniques he imbued to break convention resulted in too many distractions, which took away from the actual story and the characters themselves.
Lastly, there are a few flashbacks that serve to add depth to some of the characters and clue the audience in on why the men are who they are. This works well with Dr. Michael Burry, helping to show why he tends to isolate himself. But with Mark Baum, there are flashbacks to Baum’s brother committing suicide which feel uneven and unnecessary. I wasn’t sure what McKay was trying to tell us with this bit of information, and it probably should have not been included.
The Big Short is a fast-paced provocative telling of the worst and only economic collapse most of us have lived through. It’s told through the eyes of a few smart people, who saw the writing on the wall, and acted to profit off the stupidity of those who built a fraudulent system. But at its core, it’s about greed and the desire by all to make money, no matter the cost.