THIS IS OUR BIG CHANCE TO REALLY CLEAN UP: Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is discussing, with his three fellow investors, the results of his analysis of the stock market that is predicting the upcoming burst of the real estate bubble and is strategizing ways that they can make money when the bubble bursts. (Photo by Jaap Buitendijk – © 2015 Paramount Pictures)
Michael Lewis’s The Big Short was an eye-opening best seller describing the actions of four Wall Street analysts (played by Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, and Brad Pitt) who correctly foresaw the global financial crisis of 2008. They made a lot of money by investing in Credit Default Swaps (CDS) in anticipation of the collapse of the market in Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO).
In layman’s terms, they bet that the real estate bubble would burst because of the easy money that was being lent to unqualified borrowers via subprime mortgages. The banks didn’t mind making the so-called NINJA loans (No Income/No Job) since they would quickly sell the worthless mortgages to unsuspecting investors as soon as the deals were completed.
Despite many decent performances from the cast members, the screen version of The Big Short fails to do justice to the source material. The movie is Adam McKay’s first time directing a dramatic film. The veteran writer/director has a successful career in films that are comedies, with movies that include Anchorman (2004), Talladega Nights (2006), Step Brothers (2008) and The Other Guys (2010), The Campaign (2012), Anchorman 2 (2013) and Get Hard (2015).
The film suffers from a few glaring flaws. The first is that the names of all the key players have been changed. Since this is based on a true story, resorting to fictional characters lessens the intensity of a story that could’ve been more compelling.
The movie is further trivialized by a failure to commit fully to the dramatic importance of the serious subject matter. After all, since no one has been held responsible for the crash, many people are still angry about the billion dollar bailout of Wall Street at the expense of Main Street.
Equally annoying are several celebrity cameos by chef Anthony Bourdain, Australian actress Margot Robbie, and pop diva Selena Gomez. During distracting, fourth-wall breaking appearances, they face the camera to explain the meaning of derivatives and other arcane financial instruments. Apparently, McKay included these interludes to make his script more accessible.
The movie is a disappointingly dry lecture in finance that squanders the services of an A-list cast that has Academy Award-winners Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo, and Christian Bale, and nominees Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carell.
Fair (*½). Rated R for nudity, sexuality, and pervasive profanity. Running time: 130 minutes. Distributor: Paramount Pictures