The Big Short Marks 5 Years Since Wide Release

Left to right: Steve Carell plays Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises. Photo credit: Jaap Buitendijk.

The Big Short, featuring a star-studded cast, explores the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis while weaving together humor and drama.

The housing collapse led to one of the worst recessions in American history.  According to the film’s post-script, some $5 trillion was lost in pensions, real estate value, 401k, savings, and bonds.  Eight million people lost their jobs with six million losing their homes in the United States.

If not for The Other Guys, I would have said that Adam McKay would be the person least likely to adapt The Big Short.  And yet, here we are.  Yes, there also are moments of light humor in the film.  Charles Randolph and Adam McKay’s Oscar-winning screenplays flows between the right amount of comedy and drama.  On set, they would film what is in the script and then McKay would have the actors improvise in other takes.  This is not a film that one would expect to have a lot of improv but McKay manages to find a way.  This is certainly a very serious subject at hand.  We are also talking about a number of bankers and stock traders that ultimately decided to bet against the American economy.

None of the main actors are good people–at least in terms of the film’s plot.  They realize what is going on with the subprime mortgage-bond market and start betting against their failure.  And again, this is a few years before the crisis hit in 2008.  Meanwhile, you have Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) realizing what is going to happen.  Another storyteller might focus on the executives burning the banks to the ground and getting a taxpayer bailout.  But that isn’t the aim of Michael Lewis’s book.  No, the focus is on the people who bet against the economy.  Unbelievable, right?

The Big Short may be about the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis but the filmmakers make it accessible for non-financial people.  Anyway, the basic person is not going to understand the financial terms unless the film explains it.  Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, Richard Thaler, and Selena Gomez enter the picture to help us understand what’s happening.

This film features a star-studded cast.  Honestly, it is the best cast that McKay directs from behind the camera!  I love what Brad Pitt does in the film.  He makes it a stronger film in his own right.  Meanwhile, you have a cast that includes the likes of Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling.  They all commit to their characters and it shows in their performances.

Bale is marvelous as usual.  When does he not turn in a remarkable performance?!?  The actor knows how to do his research.  And in this film, he is not acting opposite the rest of the cast except for Tracy Letts.  Most remarkably, he is doing scenes after suffering a terrible knee injury.  I would pay money to watch Christian Bale read the phone book and it would be remarkable.

Meanwhile, Steve Carell portrays the film’s moral compass in Mark Baum.  Baum runs Morgan Stanley subsidiary FrontPoint.  He is aided by Danny Moses (Rafe Spall), Porter Collins (Hamish Linklater) and Vinnie Daniel (Jeremy Strong.  Once Baum learns about what is happening, he becomes interested in betting against the banks.  It is one thing to say screw you and make money off of banks that are screwing the working-class.  At the same time, there’s a bigger story here beneath the surface about what it could really mean for the American economy.

Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), working for Deutsche Bank, brings Baum into this world of shorting the mortgaged-backed bonds.  Ratings agencies and the government would only turn their eye.  If watching this film does not make you angry, maybe someone has some land to sell you.

Former trader Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) is on the money when he tells Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) the following:

“If we’re right, people lose homes. People lose jobs. People lose retirement savings, people lose pensions. You know what I hate about fucking banking? It reduces people to numbers. Here’s a number – every 1% unemployment goes up, 40,000 people die, did you know that?”

And this is before things really come to a halt in 2008!  I remember the crash like yesterday because I was in looking for a job in Chicago and having no luck.  Where is the government in all of this?  Not regulating like they should be.  That the banks failed is one of the biggest crimes in American history.  How do we allow the system to fail in front of our own eyes?!?  What do we do so that this shit never happens again?!?

The Big Short is a remarkable piece of cinema and nothing seems to change.

SCREENWRITERS:  Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
CAST:  Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Melissa Leo, Hamish Linklater, John Magaro, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, Finn Wittrock, and Marisa Tomei

Paramount Pictures opened The Big Short in theaters on December 11, 2015. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.