The Big Short

THE BIG SHORT. US, 2015.  Starring Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, John Magaro, Melissa Leo, Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez. Directed by Adam McKay. 128 minutes.  Rated M (Coarse language and nudity).

The Big Short has been receiving award nominations for its screenplay. This is not surprising. It is both interesting and engaging script, very serious in its subject and issues, but interlaced with some broad humour, some caustic humour, some satire, which tends to make the serious message even more serious.

There have been a number of films about the Global Financial Collapse, a very interesting television movie about the banks, the government, the key players portrayed by very strong cast of character actors, Too Big to Fail (2011). Then there was the extravaganza of extravagance in The Wolf of Wall Street (2012). And audiences will bring their response to these films their own experience of the repercussions of the GFC.

This one opens in 2005 and shows four individuals who are very wary about the financial situation in the US and the possibilities for a financial collapse and the consequences for the rest of the world. They are looked on by the establishment as eccentric if not foolish, their criticisms of banking methods, investments in hedge funds is, the industry of buying and selling on mortgages…

For the impact of the film, four serious actors bring these men to life.

We have come to rely on Christian Bale to portray complex characters on screen. He does it again with Michael Burry, a medical doctor with an interest in finance, his own company, very diligent in research, acting on his intuitions that something was very wrong, coming to bankers who politely listen to him, then impolitely laugh at him – until they are caught up in banking collapses. His investors are often very worried, especially as Michael Burry is an unconventional character, in what he wears and what he doesn’t wear (including shoes) and his seemingly cavalier belief in his own reading of situations.

Then there is Ryan Gosling, younger banker, who turns to comment to the audience now and again to confide in them. He is not lacking in’s self-assurance either, talking up his capacities, very much involved in persuading others to follow his lead.

One of those who does is a financial expert, Mark Baum. He is played with extraordinary intensity by Steve Carell who, over many years, has proven himself as an expert comedian, Bruce Almighty, The Office, 40 Here Old Virgin, the Ron Burgundy films, but has shown in recent years a capacity for a variety of serious roles: Foxcatcher, Freeheld, and this banker, with some righteous beliefs in justice, but impatient in his confrontations with everyone, especially his collaborators, and forthright in giving speeches to groups and to individuals, who is prepared to face the risks and is proven correct.

The fourth character, quite subdued in contrast, is a bearded, bespectacled, not immediately recognisable Brad Pitt, a man of sound sense, good advice, who encourages some young upstarts in their theories and speculations, who are looked down on but proven correct although they have to face the social and justice consequences of their success.

As with all these films, there is a fine supporting cast, rather eclectic including British Rafe Spall along with Hamish Linklater as collaborators of Mark Baum, and Marisa Tomei as his patient wife.

This is not to say that the film is easy to follow. One has to take on faith a lot of the dialogue from the four central characters and trust that they know what they are talking about. But, in some moments, the screenplay introduces celebrity characters to do a bit of explaining, although Margot Robbie (the wife of The Wolf of Street) is somewhat distracting doing her seductive speech in a bubble bath but Selena Gomez, watching gamblers in a casino and showing how onlookers bet amongst themselves, bets increasing in size, almost distracted from the initial bet at the table, indicates some of the risks that financial players undertake.

Film buffs will be surprised when they see the name of the director and the co-writer of this film, Adam McKay. He is best known for his work in broad American comedies, often with Will Ferrell, including the Ron Burgundy comedies and as producer of Daddy’s Home. Whatever his talents with comedy, he has used them with great effect in combination with the serious financial issues of this film.

The characters are so well drawn and performed, the dialogue so much a blend of the witty and the harsh, the issues so serious in recent financial history, that the film probably repays a second viewing.

At the end, the voice-over says that many of the bankers went to jail for their misdeeds – and then adds, “just kidding!”. For anyone who is intrigued by The Big Short, see the film 99 Homes showing the disastrous result of the GFC on homeowners unable to pay their mortgages and their loans, ousted from their houses, will find it is a sobering postscript to The Big Short.

Paramount.   Released January 14th.

Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.


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