Monday, Sept. 15, 2008. The morning of that day, as I was getting ready for another day of classes in college, I turned the news on. On every news channel that morning was not news of the upcoming general election, but rather, the fall of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch and much of the economy because of the housing bubble bursting.
That morning would come to have a significant impact on the course of America’s economy in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. One important factor in leading up to that morning, though, is that there were some who knew it was coming far in advance. That’s where “The Big Short” comes in.
The movie begins in the early-to-mid 2000s, when everything seems to be perfect with the housing market. In the first act, the film introduces a few different characters who all find out , though, that a collapse is coming. The first one to do so is financial analyzer Michael Burry, played by Christian Bale. The other characters who follow in Burry’s financial footsteps are Mark Baum, played by Steve Carell, Jared Vennett portrayed by Ryan Gosling and two younger investors mentored by Ben Rickert, played by Brad Pitt.
From the film’s introduction, it becomes apparent that “The Big Short” isn’t going for a very traditional style of storytelling. Within the first few minutes, characters break the fourth wall, narrate certain scenes and use a bit of pop culture to explain financial terms. In most cases, narration is usually unnecessary, such as in 2015’s “Joy” and “The Walk,” where it felt like the filmmakers were holding the audience’s hand a bit. The narration and even the breaking of the fourth wall work to perfection in “The Big Short,” though.
Despite dealing with subject matters such as financial numbers, trading and wall street politics, “The Big Short” turns out to be one of the most exciting and engaging cinematic experiences of 2015. The film is able to tell an important, complex story by being sharp, humorous and fast paced while still maintaining the gravity of the whole fiscal crisis.
An aspect that may divide some audience, however, is that the film is a bit scattered in terms of the characters it follows. There are three ‘groups’ of characters who are aware of the coming-crisis, yet they never meet or interact with each other like one would see in a more traditional ensemble piece.
Fortunately, despite not interacting, the focus of these characters is always directed on the same subject matter and almost everyone that is introduced is humanized. It’s because of this that the movie’s story still feels somewhat character driven and relatable, rather than just being a cold play-by-play of the crisis.
Aiding in making the characters great was the film’s stellar cast. The loudest character in the whole picture is without a doubt Baum, a passionate man working on wall street who’s against the system. Carell nails this performance so well that it’s arguably the best he’s been in his whole career. Through much of the film Baum is both infuriated and appalled at the fraud taking place behind the subprime mortgages, and Carell delivers this so well. There’s one scene in particular where the whole situation breaks him down and Carell brings all the emotional energy to the screen beautifully.
Meanwhile, two of the biggest names attached to the picture, Bale and Pitt, both play characters who are much more introverted when compared to Carell’s. Despite this, though, they both do phenomenal work, mainly by how well they bring the raw stress of the coming crisis to the screen through their expressions and mannerisms.
Then there’s Ryan Gosling, who plays the character who breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly with the audience the most. The character is cynical, witty and honest and Gosling has a lot of fun bringing that all together for a solid performance.
It’s that combination of memorable acting, humor and unique storytelling which make “The Big Short” one of 2015’s best. Additionally, it’s an important piece of cinema because it details just how big of a disaster the mortgage crisis was.
5 out of 5
“The Big Short” is rated R.