“The Big Short” Dives into a Worldwide Financial Meltdown–with Laughs

By Ryan Anderson (@randerson_ryan)

“The Big Short,” now in theaters, follows Oscar Wilde’s dictum that if you’re going to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.

If “The Big Short,” named one of the top 10 films of 2015 by the American Film Institute, didn’t make us laugh at the avarice and carelessness of those in the financial industry who brought on the most recent economic meltdown, we’d weep, or riot in the streets like the French Revolution.

This is a genuinely angry film, which has been nominated for most outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture by SAG, mad at the people who drove the country off a cliff, faced no real consequences, and now are essentially back to their old tricks.

Adapted from the Michael Lewis book of the same title–Lewis also had “Moneyball” and “The Blind Side” flourish on the big screen–we follow the few individuals who realized how insane the system had become and bet against, or shorted, the housing market. They understood that giving credit to people who didn’t deserve it so they could buy homes they couldn’t afford created an unsustainable bubble that was bound to burst, and when it did, it took the world economy with it.

It’s truly a showcase movie for actors, and, though it’s been marketing Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale in huge letters to draw in audiences, I feel compelled to point out that deception. Pitt is hardly in the movie, and Gosling is heard as narrator more than seen on screen. The movie belongs to Bale, as Michael Burry, who is the first on the scent and invests in credit default swaps to profit from the housing market collapse, and Carell, a high-strung, impatient, frustrated trader who actually hates people in finance. Bale gives his usual mannered, richly-detailed performance, and Carell is the closest thing the movie has to a moral center. We, as the audience, enjoy watching him explode in righteous indignation as he learns just how deep the foolishness of this market has grown, and he gets the most poignant scene in the film; sitting alone on a balcony among the New York City skyline as the world’s economy is collapsing like a house of cards, he should be satisfied, because he’s been right–and he has the money to prove it. Instead, he’s morose, realizing that the impending government bailout will stick taxpayers with the bills for the calamity, and almost no one involved with actually sinking the economy with their cavalier bets and insatiable greed will ever face true justice.

“The Big Short” often genuinely funny, no surprise since it’s directed by Adam McKay, who also directed the likes of “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” and “The Other Guys.” You’ll laugh during the film, you’ll be angry after you reflect on how despicable many of these financial insiders really are, and then you may even cry, because it’s only a matter of time before something like this happens again.

“The Big Short” makes a complex, dry, and sobering subject digestible, and I gave it a 60, plus, rating on the 20-80 scale.

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