Movie Review: The Big Short 2-and-half-stars



R  |  130 min

Director: Adam McKay


by Jason Koenigsberg

When the stock market plummeted in 2008 and started the economic recession we are still feeling today many people lost their jobs, houses, retirement savings etc. The Big Short covers that topic but it is mostly interested in having millionaires being played by millionaires about the few people that were wise and fortunate enough to make millions off of the biggest financial meltdown since The Great Depression. It is very hard to feel sympathy for many of these characters who gained so much while the rest of the nation, especially the dwindling middle class still suffer almost eight years later. 

The opening shot was a beautiful one with a Mark Twain quote and a son on his fathers shoulders standing in front of lush green mountains and fields reminding us that this is the quintessential image of the America that our leading presidential candidates want the voters to think of them making the United States look like. 

The Big Short is directed by Adam McKay, the same man who directed many Will Ferrell movies including Anchorman and its sequel, and he does show more range with an exceptionally talented cast than he ever has before. With the right script and actors, McKay can direct a serious or seriously funny topical social commentary with some issues he touched on in the very silly Anchorman films. The problem is that this script is so shameful and irresponsible in most regards that it is hard to praise a director who really does a great job branching out of his usual comfort zone. 

They throw the middle class a bone here and there, since most of the audience buying tickets to this make up the middle class so they had to. The film points out that the government will blame immigrants and the poor and for the first time teachers for the nations financial troubles, and there are some scenes with a man who loses the house he rents to raise his family because the owner was not paying his mortgage. Those scenes were good but felt like they were obligated to be included instead of what the film should have been focusing on. What the script tries to focus on and does with tepid results are the interpersonal relationships between our main characters and their families. As great as Steve Carell and Marisa Tomei are in The Big Short as a married couple dealing with loss and inabilities to express their emotions, it was not anything that the audience will care about and will wish they could fast forward through those scenes. 

Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling
Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling in ‘The Big Short’

Where The Big Short succeeds mightily with genuine moments of greatness are with its ability to educate an uninformed audience about the different types of mortgage loans and how they work. From the opening moments we get Ryan Gosling narrating a brief history of mortgage loans, how they started in the late ’70’s and how they eventually led to the recession three decades later. There are other great educational moments in the film where characters break the fourth wall not just to drive the story or explain the plot but also to educate the audience about how certain types of loans work. Some celebrities make great cameos in these very entertaining and informative scenes, but this review will not dare reveal any of their names because that would take away from the surprise factor that those scenes also rely on. 

The four lead actors all do a good job with their complex roles but they can all be summed up in one word or phrase. Christian Bale is quirky, Steve Carell is obnoxious, Ryan Gosling is the image of 21st century Wall Street suave like a younger cooler Gordon Gekko, and Brad Pitt is the wise and noble moral compass as the eldest of the main characters this movie focuses on. Due to such talent on screen all of these characters do come alive as real people with real problems, it is just difficult feeling sorry for them especially when you know what is going to happen and they will reap the benefits. Sure, it is great seeing the other bigger fish on Wall Street get their overdue punishments for their fraud and stupidity, but you never really feel for these characters the way that you should have to make the dramatic moments truly powerful. Brad Pitt does have one scene where he reminds two young investors the moral implications of their premature celebration that if the US economy collapses, that millions of people will lose their jobs, their homes and even their lives. 

That is The Big Short in a nutshell, a mediocre film with some genuinely great moments. By the end you really want everyone you meet in the film to fail besides the modern day Robin Hood characters we invest our time with. That is difficult since this movie is about taking down the richest people and we are supposed to be rooting for some of the biggest A-list names in Hollywood. There are great scenes that illustrate just how corrupt and clueless many Wall Street bigwigs are and that most CEO’s commit so much fraud it makes even people in the financial industry sick once they find out what is really going on. 

Another great moment was a scene involving many of our characters leaving a convention that they attend in Las Vegas and we see how they all leave the same hotel in very different ways, some with their own stretch limo, others in a taxi. It also had great moments of levity with characters breaking the fourth wall. Comedy works very much in favor of The Big Short since many scenes are meant to inform as well as entertain. In a lot of ways this film is like The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) minus the edge and more emphasis on the humor. In the end, The Big Short is not a bad movie and succeeds at educating and entertaining its audience. It is just very hard to recommend a film where there is such little sympathy for the main characters and their problems. 

Here is the trailer for Margin Call (2011) a very informative, effective and underrated picture about the 2008 financial crisis.

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