Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Big Short

We all know some of the history behind the 2008 financial crisis, but The Big Short (based on the book by Michael Lewis, which is based on actual events) takes us behind the scenes to provide the inside story of men who saw the crisis coming and took advantage of that fact, making countless millions (even billions) of dollars as a result.

Since I was furious (though hardly surprised) to learn about the fraud of big investment banks like Goldman Sachs which led to the financial crisis, I was looking forward to seeing another film that exposed that fraud and filled in more of the pieces. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to see that The Big Short suffered from the opposite problem of The Revenant: It told a great and vital story, but did not tell that story in a compelling way. 

An ensemble film, The Big Short, directed by Adam McKay, stars Christian Bale as Michael Burry, a mathematical genius who first identified the trend in defaulting mortgages which would lead to the financial meltdown (though almost no one believed him), Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennett from the Deutsche Bank, who suspected Burry was correct and decided to take advantage of it, Steve Carell as Mark Baum, a hedge fund manager who in turn believed Vennett’s predictions and Brad Pitt as Ben Rickert, who had left the investment profession because of its poor ethics but decided to help a couple of young investors, Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock) who also see the writing on the wall.

The acting is more than adequate, with the most notable performance coming from Bale (no surprise there), and the film’s beginning and ending are excellent (the last twenty minutes are worth the price of admission), but between the beginning and ending, the film’s quirky (often silly) comedic style gets in the way of the story and left me frustrated and bored. The cinematography was generally pathetic (part of the quirky style) and while some of the scenes were very funny, many others fell flat for me (and for the large audience around me), which was particularly disappointing in a film that might have been a classic.

I did very much appreciate the way The Big Short repeatedly came back to the way the financial crisis would impact the lives of average people around the globe (Ben Rickert gave a great little speech near the end of the film). Even more, I appreciated the way the film pointed to the ongoing financial crisis in the world today and the failure of the justice system to indict the criminals who caused the crisis as well as the failure of the financial institutions to learn from their mistakes (because if there is a way to make money, who cares about what happens to everyone else). 

The Big Short is a good film, but should have been much better (Margin Call and Inside Job are two much better films about the same crisis). Unfortunately, the desire to narrate the story with a unique style backfired (for me). I will still give The Big Short ***+ because of the importance of that story and because of its humanity. My mug us up.

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