The Big Short Review

So I watched The Big Short…

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I find biographical movies extremely annoying at times. I often think they don’t know what they want to be. It’s not their fault really because all biographical films have an inherent crisis of identity. They have to provide the entertainment of a feature film while imparting the knowledge of a documentary. It’s a tricky balance and, more often than not, filmmakers edge towards the documentary side and this frustrates me because if I wanted to watch a documentary, I’d stay at home and watch a documentary.

Okay, basic plot: In 2005 eccentric hedge fund manager Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale) discovers that the US housing market is on the verge of collapse. The market is built on risky subprime loans with ridiculous interest rates and he realises that eventually the people who have taken out these loans will not be able to afford the repayment rates. He sees an opportunity to profit by taking out a series of credit default swaps with various banks – which is just a fancy way of saying that he bets the banks that their customers will default on their loans. Burry, to the disdain of his boss and clients, invests over a billion dollars into these default swaps. His actions pique the interest of Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) a banker who figures out the same thing that Burry did and decides to – with the help of hedge fund manager Mark Braum (Steve Carrell) – also take out a series of credit default swops. The banks gladly give out these swops because they think the housing market is so secure that the number of defaults on loans it would take to crash the market is impossible. In 2008, Burry, Vennett, Braum, along with a few other investors who saw it coming, prove them wrong.

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I really enjoyed this film’s style. It’s one of those movies that knows that it’s a movie and various characters often break the 4th wall and address the audience directly. This worked really well for the movie because it had to explain a lot. There are complex economic terms and principles throughout the movie that the lay person (i.e. me) wouldn’t have understood otherwise. There would have been no organic way to define these terms because every character in the film is an expert in the business and, therefore, there would have been no need for them to state definitions to each other. I really enjoyed the comical nature and the use of celebrity cameos that were utilised to slow things down and give the audience a crash course in economics. The film as an educational piece really works well.

In terms of story this film is a bit short (hahaha see what I did there? No? Okay…). These guys place a bet on something and then wait around three years for the result. There’s nothing the characters in this film can do to actively influence the final result of the film. This lack of affect makes the characters feel removed from the plot because the plot is going to happen regardless of them. Plus we know what the result is so that further undercuts the tension. If you took the opening third of this movie and stuck it on the final third, I don’t think you’d notice that the middle third was missing at all. It all feels inconsequential and because of this a bit boring.

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I also didn’t connect to any of the characters. They’re all handled with a vague and non-descript manner and they’re all written to have nothing more than a superficial nature. This is all because the characters don’t influence the outcome of this story; so adding depth to them would actually add nothing to the movie. That being said, the acting in this movie is top class. This isn’t surprising because of the quality and experience of its cast. Christian Bale does a great job as Michael Burry – there are so many little mannerisms that he adds to the character and I wish we had had more time with him and greater insight. Ryan Gosling is also great along with Steve Carrell. Really everybody in this movie brings it and produces an entertaining piece.

I didn’t think this movie was all that funny. It tries to be (often far too hard) but it never quite gets there. There’s a lot of swearing and callous insults but it hardly made me laugh. It came off like this film was trying to be The Wolf of Wall Street but just couldn’t find its own comedic style. I think if this film had cut its runtime by about twenty minutes it could have cut out some empty space, kept things concise and functioned well as a ‘faux-documentary’. This film is presented extremely well and director, Adam McKay impressed me because he’s well known for his ‘Will Ferrell-like’ movies but he tackles this film with a real sense of class and dedication. His decision on camera shots and various visuals were inspired because it creates a great documentary vibe while providing feature film entertainment.

Overall, I enjoyed The Big Short. It doesn’t have any tension or characters really but its story is an important and relevant one. It provides a lot of information and works best when it educates you about the economy instead of trying to make you laugh about it. It’s worth watching even if you aren’t American, I think. 8/10

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