Directed by: Adam McKay
Written by: Charles Randolph & Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, John Magaro
For individuals like me, who were young unknowing teens during the housing crash of 2007, everything happening went over my head. Sure, I understood that foreclosures were on the rise, and people were struggling, but I never could comprehend why. Part of it was my lack of any real sort of interest but The Big Short packages the information to make both a comedic romp and an incredibly educational feature, which accomplishes demonstrating how an entire economic system came crumbling down.
In 2005, hedge fund owner Michael Burry (Christian Bale) notices the instability of the housing market with the prevalence of high-risk subprime loans. With it, he sets off a series of events allowing other individuals to take notice, as they try making a profit betting against the United States economy and attempting to warn others in the process.
Owning a house is a major facet of the American Dream. It helps build equity in a property that should go up in value over time. It contributes to regular folks becoming millionaires and has been used as a status symbol based on its different amenities. Unless you live in Manhattan or Los Angeles, the widespread expectation for any American is to own a house. Obviously, for how much they cost, most people can’t write a check and purchase a home outright, therefore relying on a mortgage. In earlier times, getting mortgages required thorough credit and employment vetting to ensure that the borrower would be financially healthy enough to pay it back. It changed when banks sought to maximize profits and essentially offer a mortgage to anyone who wanted them, thus creating these high-risk loans.
In that way, The Big Short became my introduction into thinking on a grander scale financially, and therefore understanding the people responsible for this nonsense would never pay for the harm they caused American households. The narrative follows those who saw it coming while educating the viewers about the complicated terminology. The method of the delivery spans from following characters like Michael Burry and Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) along with cutting to celebrity cameos breaking the fourth wall to define these financial terms.
I find there to be incredible power in doing this for an audience because institutions hold all of the leverage when the people they serve have no clue about the deal they’re signing onto, especially if they’re unaware what all of these terms signify. Sure, not everyone will need it spilled out that way, but at the time I watched the film, it taught me in an engaging way. It includes Margot Robbie in a bathtub and Selena Gomez at a blackjack table among others. This direct style was cheesy at times, but it fulfilled its goal in the end, which is why I took issue with parts of The Wolf of Wall Street, where fully defining Belfort’s scam became something thrown away as a joke.
The method of delivery in The Big Short made everything incredibly engaging and comedic because the rest of the narrative feels doom and gloom. Particularly with Mark Baum (Steve Carell), as he struggles with the ethics of betting against the United States economy and how the system could get stripped in such a way. He’s such an incredible counterpoint to Gosling’s Vennett, who has no issue making the investment banks pay for their greed. The entire ensemble cast depicts a variety of individuals trying to comprehend the madness about to occur to the entire economy and how those causing it seemingly have no idea about the damage and pain that will happen fairly soon. Everything’s a party until it crashes down. Along with Gosling, Bale, and Carell, the film also has Brad Pitt, Jeremy Strong, Finn Wittrock, John Magaro, and Marisa Tomei to round out the cast. They serve as guides, as we witness a system on the verge of collapse.
This film begins Adam McKay’s foray into more “prestige” material on serious topics. A director mostly known for films like Anchorman and Step Brothers. He can create some perfect comedy films and he infuses that into this more serious topic and balances out the information and humor well. He manages to balance all of the A-List stars in the film and the different roles they served for the feature. Truly an ensemble piece that combined bits and pieces to form the entire story of how one of the more trusted institutions became one of much volatility in a couple of years.
I thoroughly enjoyed the attempt of The Big Short to make something that appears to be complex into information any audience member can walk away from and comprehend. It may not be subtle filmmaking but it manages to be entertaining and informative, which was its goal from the onset. The conclusion will leave you angry intentionally because it shows what these greedy individuals caused and how most of them got away with it. Something that happens to be a trend in these white-collar offenses.