Are you ready for humour, confusion and bitter rage? If so then it’s time to read my review of the Big Short.
You remember a few years ago when the world’s financial markets crashed and lots of people lost everything? That time when the banks suddenly revealed that everything they had built their businesses on was actually a combination of lies, confusion and outright arrogance? Well, it turns out that there were those who actually predicted the crash a few years in advance and they are the focus of this film. It’s worth pointing out now that although the film has been marketed as a big ensemble piece and that the cast is a big one the characters they all play rarely actually interact. This movie hops between four main stories/groups of characters which all circle the main issue of the impending financial crash.
What follows is as brief of a description of the set up of this movie as I can put together. It gets a bit wordy, a bit difficult to follow and becomes massively morally reprehensible very fast, all of which is exactly what this film is about. Deep breath; here we go! We are introduced to Michael Burry, played by Christian Bale, first who is a semi-autonomous Wall-Street guru with many Aspergic traits that stumbles on the fact that a lot of sub-prime mortgages are due to default in 2007, and that if more than eight percent of them do so it is going to take the world’s financial markets with it. Instead of warning everyone about this and attempting to fix it he decides that the best way forward is to bet against the market and invest his corporation’s money into credit default swaps against these subprime mortgages. Basically; if what he has predicted comes true they pay him vast sums of money. We then run into Jared Vennett, played by Ryan Gosling, who is a trader who overhears that Burry is doing this from one of the bankers he works with. He then decided to follow suit and get in on the potential action. Whilst doing this he places a phone call to the wrong office and the information is shared with Mark Baum, Steve Carrell, a hedge fund manager who does some research with his team and decides that the information is correct and that they too should invest in this impending disaster. At the same time a misplaced piece of paper from Vennett in the lobby of a bank is picked up by two young investors Charlie Geller, John Magaro, and Jamie Shipley, Finn Witrock. They take the information to a retired super-banker called Ben Rickert, Brad Pitt, and also decide to jump in and try to make money off this potential crisis. Aaaaand breathe!!!
As an audience we follow these people who are busy trying to make as much money as possible off the potential downfall of a large chunk of the human race. The journey is as much fascinating and confusing as it is utterly rage-provoking. I found myself sat in the cinema grinding my teeth that anyone with this information would not immediately go to someone as high up the chain in government as they could get and then make a massive noise about it. To be fair to him Burry does try this, but he is basically laughed out of the office. Other than that though we have a group of people who, until the crash becomes reality, seem utterly bent on making themselves and their investors as much money as possible and damn the consequences. Luckily the script is one that offers a fair few uncomfortable chuckles at the expense of the banks and the people who are busy basically trying to rip them off in the same way they have been trying to do the same to everyone who they have sold worthless mortgages to since the 70’s. Another thing that saves the film from becoming a total polemic against the banking system as a whole is the cast, who all do an incredible job of making a story this dense, with characters this predatory, not only interesting but fascinating. Christian Bale’s turn as the drumming, death-metal listening, bare-footed, glass-eye wearing Burry is chameleonic, and there were several times I really felt for him as you could see that he really did not understand how the people around him worked. Steve Carrell disappears in to the person of Mike Baum and arguably anchors the film as a man who does actually understand the gravity of the situation, but who is so consumed by his existential anger at the system as a whole he cannot stop himself from profiting off their mistakes whilst screaming obscenities at them in revenge for everything they have done in the name of the bottom-line. His interaction with his team of analysts gives the film a much needed infusion of relatively normal back and forth in amongst the financial babble. Brad Pitt has a smaller role as Rickert, but he brings a much needed stillness and gravitas to the screen when he is on it, which provides a nice contrast to the eager-puppy energy of John Magaro and Finn Witrock as Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley who team up with him. Magaro and Witrock also have some of the film’s more amusing moments as they play the small fish trying desperately to break into Wall Street’s big pond. Finally we come to Ryan Gosling, who infuses Jared Vennett with a truly psychopathic air of total dedication to profit. He is Gordon Gecko reborn and woe betide anyone who gets in his way. As the informal narrator and only completely morally bankrupt character of the film he made me so uncomfortably angry when he was on screen that I found myself breathing a sigh of relief when his scenes ended.
At this point it is worth discussing the feeling of confusion and anger that this film inspired within me that have mentioned before. This is mainly down to the story itself, but Adam McKay’s direction of the film cleverly enhances it. I don’t think there was one shot in this movie that held position solidly for more than a few seconds. The focus jumps around, quick cuts abound and you are constantly bombarded with new angles and views. This did two things for me; firstly it kept the pace of the movie going during some of the bigger exposition scenes and secondly it stopped me from ever truly settling into my seat. This is an incredibly uncomfortable watch, but that is all part of its genius. This is not a story you are meant to feel happy about. As the characters continue to uncover further layers of corruption and deceit that have set the whole banking system up for a massive collapse they become more and more frantic, even though they are probably set to profit from the fall. The camera almost follows this, jumping more, increasing the energy and pace of the scenes even further. Another aspect of the movie that kept me from sitting down and enjoying it like a normal movie was the sheer amount of techno-babble that was being fired off the screen. At the end of it all I was not surprised that no one saw this coming in the general banking populace, the situation was just too complicated for anyone to understand and that was the reason for the layers and layers of confusion; to hide the fact that they were basically making money off everyone based on lies. The film takes great pains to explain things such as AAA loans and sub-prime mortgages to you, even jumping out of the main narrative to let Margo Robbie in a bubble-bath explain things to the audience step by step, but even after that I could not wrap my head around the sheer complexity of the situation. All of that builds to a crescendo that is the crash itself. The numbers start to fall and on one side I could not help but feel pleased for the characters I had been following for the last two hours, but on the other side of things I was horrified and enraged that all this had been allowed to happen in the first place.
Taken as a whole this film is one that will make you want to go out and find yourself a nice banker to punch (I should state that Movies with Moon does not endorse violence of any sort outside of the silver-screen). The complete lack of humanity that is on display in this film, wrapped up though it is in the mainly amusing comedy that the script provides to break up the tension now and again, is utterly horrendous.I’m not sure I can say that this is a film that I will be wanting to re-watch again and again, but I will say that it is one that does what it sets out to do with style and panache. Definitely one to watch, just know that you may need to go out for a long run to calm down afterwards…
Four Moons out of Five. Deeply angering, but very good at it!