Exposé of ‘The Big Short’ is an American Masterwork

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CHICAGO – This is a rare film that will fill you with anger, while making you laugh at the absurdity of 21st Century life. “The Big Short” is an inside look at the mortgage meltdown that began in 2007, that cost eight million jobs and an untold amount of foreclosures, and the men who knew it was coming.

It also exposes how the financial world is basically a large scale casino, with the crime bosses in better clothing. Comedy director Adam McKay (“Anchorman”) makes his first “dramatic’ film, and it took a man who sees the farcical nature of life to express the complexity of what these sharks did to the economy. It’s a reminder of how there is always a certain level of human greed and arrogance, and explains what we already should know – it’s a jungle out there, and basically it is about killing or being killed. It’s also about cheating, lying and stealing by the fat cats of this jungle, the so-called “pillars of society.” I’m damn sure they vote Republican as well.

Mark Baum (Steve Carell) runs a financial fund, making investments for a collective of money. He begins to note a trend regarding home mortgages, how many of them float on low interest adjustable rates, and the banks are giving them away. A spate of foreclosures signals his research, and he notices that many of the homes had these adjustable rates, and would collapse once the adjustments were made upward.

Steve Carrell
Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) Starts the Process in ‘The Big Short’
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is a numbers guy, and he sees the same trends. They both bet on the “short,” an investment that pays off if the mortgage derivative (bundles of mortgages) go belly up. These bets are noticed by Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and retired financier Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). The mainstays and the background players are all waiting, as the clock ticks down to the Great Recession.

Even with little financial expertise, you too can explain the meltdown after you see this film. Writer/Director Adam McKay (with co-writer Charles Randolph) adapted a book by Michael Lewis, and made it a visual farce that leaves no ugly stone un-turned, and shines a light on the rats that don’t care about anything except exploiting for dollars. The result is maddening, almost surreal, and really nothing has changed. Our jobs, our security, our way of life is all in the hands of a bunch of adrenaline driven money junkies.

Steve Carell, who has worked with Adam McKay in both “Anchorman” movies, gives his best dramatic performance ever as Mark Blum. He fulfilled the edge of the character, a “Chicken Little” who knows the sky is falling, and gives him the desperate, gut punched expression look – both in what he knows and how he discovered the source as it all plays out. Carell never loses his sense of character in the middle of it all, and it is a complete and disorderly portrayal.

Director McKay has some incredible fun with the cinematic tools. Characters break the “fourth wall” and talk to the audience – Ryan Gosling in particular seems to have the most fun with this – and McKay uses freeze frame, overlaying dialogue and nonsensical scenes to explain the complex financial algorithms. You like the luscious Margot Robbie in a bubble bath? McKay uses her in that scenario to explain high level and mathematical financial bullshit, so pay attention.

Brad Pitt
Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) in ‘The Big Short’
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

All the players in the film are passionate to tell the story, and that is why it pops so vividly from the screen. It’s as if McKay decided to teach America a lesson, but knew it wouldn’t pay attention unless Selena Gomez (in a particularly funny and crazy scene) was telling it. This is a true prodigious piece of filmmaking – hilarious, horrifying and full of heart. This film is McKay’s gift to society, and should make us question ‘how come they get away with it?’ It obvious that any entity designed to regulate it had been long bought out.

In another sense, it also teaches us that the focus on developing ways to fleece others to gain profit for ourselves is against all principles of cooperative life. If it continues, there will be a few of the richest people who survive – holding all the gold – but with no one left to give a damn about it or them.

“The Big Short” opens in Chicago on December 11th, elsewhere by December 23rd. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Hamish Linklater, Margot Robbie, Marisa Tomei and Selena Gomez. Screenplay adapted by Adam McKay and Charles Randolph. Directed by Adam McKay. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2015 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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