The 2008 financial crisis hit everyone hard. Well, it hit almost everyone hard. A fair deal of people actually found ways to benefit off the economic downfall. Not too long ago we got 99 Homes, a film where Michael Shannon played a seemingly soulless real estate agent who profited off evicted homeowners. The Big Short tells the story of men who were able to get filthy rich upon realizing our financial system was destined to fail. Unlike Shannon’s character, though, they have something resembling a conscience.
The film takes place just a couple years before the housing market took a turn for the worse. The banks have no idea the economy is about to nosedive, or at least they refuse to acknowledge the inevitable. One man who does foresee the next Great Depression is a hedge fund manager named Michael Burry (Christian Bale). He seizes this opportunity to short the market, although many believe his analysis is crazy. However, a few others catch wind of Burry’s prediction and see the light.
The Big Short is comprised of an excellent ensemble that includes Steve Carell as Steve Eisman, a money manager who bets against subprime mortgages, Brad Pitt as Ben Rickert, an ex-banker trying to make the best out of a bad situation, and Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennett, a mysterious figure who’s always the slickest guy in the room. What’s interesting about the four main characters here is that the audience is able to route for them while also routing against them. On one hand, these men were smart to take advantage of their situation and we want to see them come out on top. In order for that to happen, however, their grim premonition has to come true and countless people are going to be screwed over. Although these guys stand to make a fortune, even they don’t really want to see the economy tank. If anything, some of them feel dirty profiting off Doomsday. It’s a Catch-22 where the world is damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
There’s a lot of talk in The Big Short about bonds, loans, and credit bubbles. A good deal of it might go over your head if you couldn’t pass Economics 101. Director Adam McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph pack their screenplay with so much fast-paced, witty dialog, though, that’s it’s hard not to be enthralled even when you’re not entirely sure what the characters are talking about. The filmmakers are also quite clever in how they get certain financial concepts across to the audience, enlisting celebrities like Margot Robbie to break the fourth wall and explain. The fact that Robbie is taking a bubble bath in the process perfectly sums up the film’s sly, self-aware, and occasionally bizarre humor.
The best way to describe this film is The Wolf of Wall Street meets Moneyball. This shouldn’t come as surprise seeing how Michael Lewis, who wrote the source material for the latter movie, also wrote the source material for The Big Short. The film is sharp, surreal, and funny, but it’s also thought provoking with something to say about humanity. In a way, there were no winners coming out of the financial crisis, only losers. Then again, some of those losers did come out much richer than others.