My Rating: 8.5 out of 10
The filmmakers behind The Big Short had two major handicaps to overcome when crafting the film: the massive amount of esoteric background knowledge required to understand what was going on and the fact that audiences went into the movie knowing how the story would end. With that said, the creators were able to use a blend of creative exposition, powerful acting, and comedy to tell the story in a way that not only kept me interested and entertained, but taught me more about the 2008 housing market collapse and the banking practices on Wall Street than any informational videos I’ve seen.
For those of you unfamiliar with the film, The Big Short is a story that takes place in the mid-2000s and revolves around three groups of individuals (mostly bankers) who all notice a “bubble” emerging in the housing market that implies there will be an economic collapse before the end of the decade. Michael Burry (played brilliantly by Christian Bale) is the hedge fund manager who initially discovers the “bubble” and is dismissed as a kook by his colleagues, especially when he decides to “short the housing market”, which is a fancy way of saying he bets against the housing market and will profit from the total collapse that he sees coming. In an ironic twist, we end up rooting for these outsiders in the banking world because we know that, despite all the nay-saying, they are right. On top of this, the main characters are more compelling because as they get closer to winning their bet, they become more and more emotionally distraught about the overall implications of the housing market collapse, which most of us around the world now understand all too well in one way or another.
While I have not read the book that the film was based on, I have watched a few interviews with both the author and the filmmakers where they talk about the difficulty of translating the original non-fiction tome into a film that would grab audiences without losing the power and message behind the text. They certainly made some interesting choices, such as having various celebrities break the fourth wall in some bizarre ways in order to explain in more detail some of the complex banker speak going on in the film. For example, in one scene, Selena Gomez explains how bad bets in the banking world can lead to domino effects throughout the rest of the financial world. The overall theme of the movie is also quite funny given its subject matter, though I feel doing it any other way would have made the audience bored and confused. Instead I got to sit through a movie that told a powerful, important story that needed to be told, while still getting invested in the characters and having a good laugh. While the book is probably a bit more informative, I can’t imagine it would be as much fun.
With the aforementioned handicaps, it can be hard to believe that The Big Short could have been one of the very best films of the year, but it undoubtedly was. I think the reason for that was the exquisite writing of the film along with the powerhouse actors who all delivered top-notch, best-actor-worthy performances. You know an actor is doing a fantastic job when you can barely see them through the character they are playing, and this definitely happened for me with all four of the leads (especially Brad Pitt and Christian Bale, who were so deep in their roles that they were nearly indistinguishable.) The writing needed to be spot in order to tell the story in the right way, but also to leave the audience with a message. The film got across to me that the reason behind the housing crisis was a mixture of no one paying the proper attention and people childishly trying to rig the system to make more money without thinking of the ramifications. The scene in which Charlie and Jamie go into the failed bank really sums up this message. One of the boys asks, “What did you expect to find here” and the other responds, “I don’t know. Grownups?”
I believe wholeheartedly that this is an important film for anyone to see, as the economic recession of the late-2000s affected nearly every developed country in the world, but so few people actually understood what led to it and how it could have been avoided. Whether you follow economics or politics, this film will resonate with you in some way. For me, it seemed to be a call to action just as much as it was entertaining and informational. This isn’t a 3D blockbuster or a beautiful cinematographic masterpiece, but it is important and extremely well executed. If you don’t get to see it in theatres, definitely make sure to rent or watch it on television later, you won’t regret it!