Another best picture nominee, the Big Short is based on the 2010 book by Michael Lewis about the financial crisis of 2007 – 2008. It was initiated by the failing of the housing market.
The movie is narrated by the Jared Vennett character, and begins in 2005 as odd hedge fund manager Michael Burry figures out that the housing market is unstable, since it is based on subprime loans which are high risk, and provide fewer and fewer returns. He predicts that the market will collapse sometime in 2007, and then realizes that he can make a profit from that by creating a credit default swap market – which allows him to basically bet against the housing market. He goes to several major banks and investment dealers – and since they all believe the housing market is stable, they laugh at him and are more than willing to take his money up front.
Eventually, others hear about Burry’s odd behavior, and decide to get in on it. Vennett is a trader, and realizes Burry is right, he makes a wrong phone call that gets him in touch with another fund manager – Mark Baum and his crew. Accidentally – two other young investors, Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley discover Vennett’s proposal and also get in with the assistance of semi-retired banker Ben Rickert. Eventually, they are proven right as the system begins to collapse, and they all make millions, with varying degrees of moral shame and indignation at the system in general.
The movie is directed by Adam McKay – yes, the Adam McKay who started out on SNL as Will Ferrell’s writing partner and directed Anchorman, Talledega Nights, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys. He does a really good job of trying to break down the collapse to make it easy to understand for the audience, including several clever fourth-wall breaks and cutaways to celebrities using analogies to explain what happened. That’s a smart way to do it – but I won’t lie to you, I’m still not entirely sure what happened. The actors do a great job – some portraying real people, and some portraying characters based on real people. Each reacts with varying levels of disgust when they realize what the banks are doing.
- Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett and it’s really the same character you’ve seen him play before – but it helps to have him narrate the movie, and help to explain some of the more complicated bits. I particularly enjoyed how he treated his assistant.
- Christian Bale plays Michael Burry – who is a real person, who (seriously) is a former neurologist with an artificial left eye and Asperger’s syndrome. He seems to run his hedge fund in bare feet while drumming along to heavy metal. But, he’s crazy smart and figures all of this out before anyone else. Bale does the same great job he always does falling into the character.
- Steve Carell plays Mark Baum – and he proves once again that he’s great at drama. Baum has just gone through the tragedy of his brother’s death, and as a result, is basically burying himself in work. Marisa Tomei has a very small role as Baum’s wife. Once he realizes the depth of the issue he really feels distraught that so many people will lose their homes. I also really enjoyed the guys that played the members of his team – Hamish Linklater, Rafe Spall, and Jeremy Strong.
- Brad Pitt plays Ben Rickert, and has basically a cameo in the movie (because the movie is produced by his company Plan B),
- Rickert is the wise mentor to the two young and excitable investors played by John Magaro and Finn Wittrock.
- Melissa Leo has a very small role as Georgia Hale, an employee at the financial services who helps Baum and team realize how deep the corruption goes.
- Byron Mann (who used to be a real-life lawyer) plays Mr. Chau, who is an owner of a CDO business, who again helps Baum see how terrible the system is.
- Karen Gillan has a cameo as Evie, Max Greenfield and Billy Magnussen play brokers, and Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez, and Anthony Bourdain all show up as themselves in the explaining cutaways.
Overall the movie is really well done – very interesting, and exceptionally well-acted. Again, they do a great job explaining the situation and how it all came apart, which again just makes you furious when you realize that no one from the banks ended up going to jail over this nonsense. It’s definitely worth a watch.
7 out of 10 – Gained points for the cutaways and attempting to make the crash clear. Lost points for Carrell and Bale’s hair – were those wigs? If so – they were terrible.
Bonus - Cast interviews: