Midway through “The Big Short,” something hit me. Going into the film, I knew its basic premise: how a bunch of investors made money off the housing crisis. What I didn’t realize was how big a moment the implosion of America’s housing bubble was, and how the ensuing economic crash affected my life and the choices I’ve made. Like other films about significant historical events I was alive for, there was a resonance throughout this film. Not nostalgia, but that feeling of “I know where I was when this was going down.” It was something I didn’t expect with a film like this, but the story felt very grounded in its timeline.
The film opens with a very basic description of the housing crisis, then delves right in by introducing us to Michael Burry (Christian Bale), an eccentric former doctor who sees opportunity in the unstable U.S. Housing Market. Burry visits various investment banks in hopes they’ll create a credit default swap market so he may invest against the housing market. The banks, while practically laughing in his face, gladly take his money – in their eyes, the housing market is an institution that will never fail. Jared Vennett (an unbelievably tan Ryan Gosling) gets word of this new investment opportunity – his office mistakenly calls a hedge fund led by angry-at-the-world Mark Baum (Steve Carrell).
Vennett, now shopping these default swaps to various hedge funds, offers Baum’s group the opportunity to invest. Baum, ever the skeptic, takes the opportunity to send his team to investigate the real-world repercussions of the mortgages buried deep within Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs).
If this all sounds complicated, it is. What’s great about Adam McKay and Charles Randolph’s script is that the film breaks all the information down in a way that gives a clear understanding of why things went down the way they did with devices like Vennett’s narration simplifying the details, and fun cameos from the likes of Margot Robbie and Anthony Bourdain. There’s a lot of humor in the script, but the kind of humor that comes with a worldwide economic breakdown. You can’t help but shake your head and let your jaw drop.
The acting is superb – Bale, as always, disappears into his role. Carrell continues to prove his worth as a serious actor. Ryan Gosling, whom we haven’t seen since “Only God Forgives,” comes back in force.
Writer/Director Adam McKay has crafted a tightly-woven film with “The Big Short.” The period he creates, though only less than a decade ago, is captured well in the music supervision and production design. Even if you have no interest in economics or Wall Street, the story told in “The Big Short” is great, a reminder of how bad things got a short 7 years ago.