“Do you smell that?” Wall Street investor Jarred Vennet (Ryan Gosling) asks with a smirk. “I smell money.”
Money, corruption and fraud: all very familiar and relevant when you talk about Wall Street. “The Big Short” is a typical Wall Street story, with all the expected bells and whistles. It is a film deserving of an Oscar nomination for Best Picture for its distinct flair and method of storytelling, yet falls short of the makings of a classic.
Based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, the mostly true story of “The Big Short” follows the development and climax of the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-09. Eccentric hedge fund manager Michael J. Burry (Christian Bale) discovers a hidden truth: the American housing market has been operating under an enormously unstable “bubble.” Banks and the crediting systems they operate are manipulating the system and painting a false picture of security in the minds of the American people.
While every major corporation and bank loses hundreds of millions of dollars, the investors who bet against the market make profits of up to 489 percent of their initial investments. Mark Baum (Steve Carell), Jared Vennet (Ryan Gosling), Charlie Geller (John Magaro), Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) all desperately race to invest while the rest of America mistakes them for fools and stumbles into a deep economic depression.
The characters in this movie are what really draw the audience to the screen. Clad in a t-shirts, flip flops and shorts, Burry spends his time bursting his ear drums with heavy metal music and finding investments with guaranteed high returns. Bale earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance, and rightfully so. His portrayal of an autistic investor with a keen eye for detecting the unseeable is compelling and raw. The other actors are also excellent in portraying the real-life calamity of the housing market. Brad Pitt and Steve Carrell really stand out in their respective roles as a disillusioned Wall Street veteran and a job-obsessed man who is “happy when he’s unhappy.”
Unless you are already an expert on the housing crisis, a lot of the financially related terms will probably not mean much to you at first mention. Don’t worry, while financial jargon is littered throughout the film, the movie seeks to decode the complicated details of the event in a quirky and creative way. It features cameos from several recognizable figures, including pop star Selena Gomez, actress Margot Robbie and chef Anthony Bourdain, who use analogies to simplify the words the sophisticated Wall Street bankers introduced to confuse people.
Albeit occasional lack of clarity, topics are presented in such a way that the overall situation is fairly easy to understand. In other words, the audience probably won’t be able to recite the definition of a synthetic CDO (collateralized debt obligation) after watching, but it is not essential to the basic understanding of the movie.
The film deftly utilizes popular songs from the 2000s including Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and Ludacris’ Money Maker.” The soundtrack is used as a cynosure to direct the audience’s focus towards the deception on Wall Street, which simultaneously keeps the audience engaged. This helps to keep the audience engaged. However, it is not enough: the pace of the film begins to drag somewhere around the second half. It feels as if the whole film is building up to a climax that isn’t as glorious or satisfying as expected.
The film received five Oscar nominations in total: Best Supporting Actor, Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture.
“The Big Short” is comedic, but not quite lighthearted. Undoubtedly geared towards an older audience, it’s a two-hour-and-10-minute journey that will provide plenty of entertainment, but also a pretty ominous message to take home. Though it’s a good film to watch, the movie’s ultimate downfall is its inability to deliver the exciting ending the audience is anticipating.
But to quote Michael Burry, “everyone’s wrong.”
“The Big Short”
2 hours, 10 minutes
Rated: R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity
Directed by Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling