The Big Short

If you were one of the many Ron Burgundy fans who felt let down by Anchorman 2, the movie to blame is finally here. Adam McKay, Head Writer at Saturday Night Live during the late 90s and the director of all the most Will Ferrelly of Will Ferrell movies, was not the obvious choice to adapt such a serious book as The Big Short and reportedly only agreed to write a second Anchorman to sweeten the deal.

The Big Short, which I have not read, was written by Michael Lewis and documents the story of the big short 2the small group of people who foresaw the collapse of the housing market in 2007 and took a giant gamble by betting against the banks. Now, I’ve seen Inside Job, 2010’s Oscar-winning documentary about the financial crisis and I’ve seen Wolf of Wall Street but still manage to get my dividends and my CDIs mixed up. With Inside Job going so far over my head, I couldn’t help but wonder how a writer best known for “Go fuck yourself, San Diego” would handle such potentially confusing material.

the big short 3It turns out that Mckay is the right guy to make a financial crisis movie for someone as financially illiterate as I am. He consistently finds creative ways to pause to explain the trickier concepts, often by breaking the fourth wall with outrageous celebrity cameos of which I wouldn’t dare spoil the surprise. There are enough jokes, often poking fun at the conventions of movies that are “based on a true story”, to hold our attention better than Inside Out or Wolf or Wall Street could hope to without ever abandoning the appropriate level of outrage at how so much greed could cause so much suffering.

How Hollywood could make a movie- a comedy no less- from Lewis’ book wasn’t the only reason to be curious about McKay’s film. It also boasts one of 2015’s most intriguing casts. Brad Pitt, one of The Big Short’s producers, has the smallest role of the four names above the title but stands out for his uncharacteristicallyy understated performance. I didn’t even recognize him in the preview. (I thought he was Peter Dinklage).  I couldn’t help noticing though that casting himself as the one guy who gets that “this is just not right” is becoming a bit of a self-serving the big shorthabit of his. (See: 12 Years a Slave). Ryan Gosling, last seen in 2013’s Only God Forgives, makes his triumphant return to the big screen. As Jared Vennett, he channels all the handsome-and-he-knows-it smugness that we saw in Crazy Stupid Love and The Ides of March. Come to think of it, he’s versatile enough to have played pretty much any of the major characters so his talents may have been better served with a better part but he plays it well and has some really funny lines.

Christian Bale and Steve Carrell- believe it or not- are competing for the Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical Golden Globe. Bale plays Michael Burry, the brilliant hedge fund manager with Asperger’s who loves to air drum. He’s good but has been better. He plays the eccentric genius a little like he did the eccentric in American Hustle but he has some strong scenes, especially when he starts to let his humility show towards the end. It’s Carrell, though, who steals the show. With the other characters so impressed with their own coolnees or brilliance and so focused on how much money they’re going to make if their gamble pays off, Carrell brings the humanity. He plays money manager Mark Baum, based on Steve Eisman. He’s had it out for the banks ever since his brother lost all his money and jumped off the roof of a highrise. (I’m not sure if that happened to Eisman or not). His shock and anger is palpable in every scene. Because he’s played by Steve Carrell, he’s still funny. But McKay counts on him to remind us that, while laughing at the stupidity and recklessness of Wall Street can be a lot of fun, a lot of real people got hurt.

I’ll be cheering for him on Sunday.

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35 thoughts on “The Big Short

  1. ninvoid99

    I’m interested in seeing this though I think McKay wanted to do this ever since making The Other Guys which had material about finances and stuff. If doing Anchorman 2 was a chance to make this film, then it’s a good thing because it at least shows that he wants to take risks and do something different.

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    1. Matt Post author

      My friend actually said something like that about The Other Guys, now that you mention it. I haven’t seen it but was surprised to hear that that movie might be quite different than I had pictured.

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  2. Tom

    Heh. The Big Short. More like . . . The Big Shit.

    😉 Excellent review dude. I uh. . . .I . . . . I. . . . I didn’t like it. This just felt so didactic to me. But I see that I’m in the minority bc this thing is killing it with critics circles and audiences (well, ok RT voters) are also giving it lots of thumbs up.

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    1. Matt Post author

      Oh, I’m kind of jealous that you didn’t like it because I had The Big Shit in my back pocket for if I didn’t. You beat me do it. I mean, you’re right. It’s didactic, no question about it. I admired it though because this topic makes me particularly vulnerable to confusion and/or boredom so I give it lots of credit for keeping me both entertained and emotionally involved.

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      1. Matt Post author

        Oh, Margin Call is amazing, even better than The Big Short. That was one of my three picks last summer when we were discussing workplace movies.

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      2. Tom

        That’s a really good point. I did admire how McKay was doing all of these things to keep his audience engaged. This material is innately and very complex. Kudoso to him for trying, it just put me off in particular. I still like McKay. That guy has serious talent

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  3. Amy Reese

    Hey, I just saw this! I really enjoyed it. I thought it was well done. My husband said he would have rather had seen a documentary, but I thought this was clever and entertaining and brought some emotion to it all. I didn’t even recognize Brad Pitt at first! I’ll be rooting for Steve Carrell, too. Great review.

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    1. Matt Post author

      Thanks, Amy. I was very entertained by this and would be very interested in seeing a documentary about these guys. (I guess I should maybe just read the book).

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      1. Amy Reese

        I enjoy documentaries, too. He mentioned Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story.” I guess he talks about the housing crisis. Have you seen that one? I bet there are others. I’d like to read the book, too. I wonder if it’s as entertaining as the movie. Hmm….

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      2. Matt Post author

        I’ve seen Capitalism, yes, but about six years after I was completely over Michael Moore. It was easier to follow than Inside Job but not nearly as interesting a doc.

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    1. Matt Post author

      It’s funny because I haven’t seen Wolf in awhile and all I remember is Leo crawling around all fucked up. I feel like this one gets into the specifics more but does an excellent job of making sure everyone, even me, are still with them.

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  4. Cassandra

    I enjoyed this one, but I felt that they broke the fourth wall a little too much. And by the time Selena Gomez was playing blackjack I was pretty much done with the device. Still, glad I saw it.

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  5. movierob

    Can’t say that I loved this one. It was good, but too much information overload. I usually love the use of the breaking the 4th wall, but here it felt too much. I wanted to like this one much more than I actually did unfortunately

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