SYNOPSIS: During the mid 2000s, eccentric physicist Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) decides to bet a large sum of money against the banks knowing that the US housing market is on the brink of collapsing. This catches the attention of New York businessmen Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) as they end up working together in order to tackle corruption within the financial industry. Meanwhile, veteran banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) is approached by two young investors about wanting in on the action.
America’s economic meltdown gets given the Wolf of Wall Street treatment in Anchorman director Adam McKay’s ambitious yet flawed Oscar contender The Big Short.
Given the impact the recession has had on us today, the story remains relevant even if it focuses more on how our American counterparts were affected. Though the subject matter is serious, laughs do come from various individuals particularly when Ryan Gosling delivers clinical deadpan speeches.
What can also be said about the film’s strengths is the risky yet inspired decision to explain the important financial concepts without boring the audience to death. To do this, McKay opts to break away from the action by having random celebrities do all the talking about these money-making securities. Bizarre as these moments are, you can’t help but be entertained especially when it involves one of the sexiest women in the world chatting about bonds from a bathtub!
It does help though that the film has four talented actors to keep us interested from beginning to end. Given his experience with playing challenging roles in the past, Christian Bale delivers another sublime performance as the autistic Dr. Burry that doesn’t require him to go over the top as he keeps things subtle and makes his character the more sympathetic out of the main quartet.
Ryan Gosling adds personality to the film with his cocky role as Jared Vennett and also gets the chance to deliver most of the narration in the same way Leonardo Di-Caprio did it in Wolf of Wall Street.
Steve Carrell follows up his dark turn in last year’s Foxcatcher with another dramatic role as the emotionally-affected Mark Baum, a man who is conflicted over the way Wall Street has mistreated its clients. While he is promoted as one of the big guns here, Brad Pitt is actually underused but lends some experienced support as the former banker who acts as a wise mentor to his two young, ambitious investors (played efficiently by Hamish Linklater and Jeremy Strong).
Unfortunately, the female cast members find themselves indisposed with experienced names Marisa Tomei and Melissa Leo wasted in their brief roles while Scottish beauty Karen Gillian is limited to one pointless scene.
However while the performances are exceptional, the issue with the characters is that aside from Burry and Rickert, we find ourselves struggling to root for these men especially when they got lucky at the expense of millions of unfortunate people. This was never going to be a story that satisfied many especially when so many of us have had the misfortune of experiencing the frustrations of the recession.
Another chief flaw is the way McKay tries to tie things together through his use of montages via quick-cutting. Given the recent momentum it’s gained during awards season, it’s surprising to see the editing get so much acclaim when it looks choppy every now and again.
Ultimately, The Big Short isn’t quite as well-executed as you’d expect even though you can see what McKay is trying to achieve. Nevertheless its stellar cast and good questions about morality and greed are enough to keep certain audiences interested.