by Alan Yudman
How to explain the event and misdeeds that led to the 2008 worldwide financial crises and the collapse of the housing market? It is a challenge to be sure, but one Adam McKay is up to in THE BIG SHORT. Based on Michael Lewis’ book, it details how a few smart guys saw the bubble (even though as one person says in the film, “a bubble is invisible”), bet against the American economy and made billions. THE BIG SHORT is funny, dramatic and will make you shake your head in wonder and disgust. Were the banks dumb, crooked, blind or a combination of all? That is something you’ll have to decide for yourself after watching the film and doing some research. The film focuses on four groups. Christian Bale is an M.D. with Aspergers who heads an investment fund in California. Steve Carrell is in charge of a very small group that makes up a fund with loose ties to one of the big banks. Brad Pitt advises a couple of young fund managers who are based in Colorado and Ryan Gosling is the head of a department at one of the big banks who sees what his bosses are blind to. The film jumps back and forth between these groups (although Gosling and Carrell are working together). They are as amazed as the audience at what is going on and shocked that no one else sees it. McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph use humor and celebrity cameos to explain how some of these complicated financial instruments work. And for the most part it helps simplify something not many people would get. It also is pretty entertaining to watch Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez explain this stuff. Gosling’s character narrates large portions of the film and breaks the fourth wall by talking directly to the audience. It sounds like it could be disjointed, but it mostly works. The performances are all very good, but Carrell shines above all others, The easiest comparison to a film currently in theaters is to place THE BIG SHORT side by side with SPOTLIGHT. Both involve crimes that make you wonder about morality and good versus evil and whether there is any good left. The big difference here is SPOTLIGHT touches the heart, guts and head more effectively. That may be owing to the nature of the crime. Massive greed versus massive evil. So I didn’t connect as deeply with THE BIG SHORT, but it is a marvelous film that deserves praise for effective use of humor and creative storytelling to get its point across.