THE BIG SHORT makes for one of the best kinds of history lesson: one you can feel as fellow-human experience rather than just a bland jumble of arcane concepts & figures forcefed your attention span. Movies, relying on visuals and artfully selected sounds, are emotional experiences by their very nature. Unless you’re gifted with a math genies parse power, the denser the subject, the more difficult it can be to absorb. Economics, as much a snoring collection of abstract theory as it is a daunting battery of ever-shifting numeric arrays, makes for crossed eyes to the ordinary Joe Zoned, and when the mix is purposefully dropped into a blender of legal jargon by a lot of guys trying to cover their tracks (and not sure where they’re going, either) you’re left holding the bag, in a fog—and the bag stinks.
That s’plained, this funny, high-energy, attention-demanding, information-packed 2015 comedy-drama about the house of cards (too conventional? try ocean of bullshit) that crushed the American economy in 2008 * gallops like cinema cavalry over the horizon for viewers who want/need to understand what the the hell happened to all the collected money (and collective common sense).
At this point you could plug in a bulging briefcase of headache-inducing terminology—CDOs (collateralized debt obligations), mortgage backed securities, grades of subprime loans, credit default swaps—you get, or rather don’t get—the picture: the one syllable word for all of it is the lipstick-free pig we call fraud.
Brilliantly, director Adam McKay and Charles Randoph, his co-writer on the screenplay, give reams of sharp verbal ammo over to a flawless cast of engaging and deeply committed actors. Led by a trio of today’s keenest interpreters of flawed modern urban man (Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling), a bevy of fresh, eager talent and seasoned pros trace arcs of clarity (laced with mischief, outrage, rue and grief) through 133 minutes that give you an earful of and gut-grasp for what Wall Street did to Main Street when nearly everyone was looking the other way.
Caveat emptor: make that ‘nearly everyone’ but not all, as the script (with expected tweaks of identity) outlines the colossal con game through the widening eyes of nine intertwined guys who spied the iceberg before the collision (may as well mix disaster metaphors) and frantically tried to land the best position in the handful of lifeboats. Some venal, some naive, some principled, a mix of hardball players and gee-whiz newbies, all riding the biggest money horse since infamous 1929.
Bale’s social misfit savant, Carell’s tormented zealot, Gosling’s acidic piledriver are only the front-men in a dizzying parade of sassy vignettes, with welcome peek-ins from a zenned Brad Pitt and always welcome Marisa Tomei (she could read aloud steps in the processing of cheese and every guy I know would elbow their grandmother for a better seat). Plus, Melissa Leo, in another plum turn as a help-free, helpless Standard & Poor’s hack (with watchdogs like this….).
Excellent work from newer faces: John Magaro and Finn Wittrock as giddy entrepreneurs in the shark pool way, way over their heads; Amish Linklater, Rafe Spall and especially Jeremy Strong (what superb concentration!–this guy is in-tense) as Carell’s good-natured team.
Beyond cast and script, the direction and editing use a blizzard of perfectly timed film clips, vivid location work and some very funny breaks of the ‘4th wall’ from Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez, Richard Thaler and best of all, Margot Robbie. Believe this student, you will remember more economic jargon as delivered here by Margot Robbie in a bubble bath than if you wasted three terms coked up at Harvard Business School.
An Oscar-winner for Screenplay, it was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Bale is aces high) and Film Editing. Rolled out for a lean $28,000,000, it paid dividends to the ka-ching of $133,000,000, not least because it treated its audience with some measure of intellect respect and dared ask them to sit up and pay attention along with the laughs.
With Adepero Oduye, Byron Mann, Billy Magnussen, Max Greenfield and Heighlen Boyd, as the stripper with five mortgages.
*Thanks to Team Obama’s brazen panhandling of the Clintonian/ King George II megadump in the litter box, and Hair Fuhrer’s bottomless stupidity and meanness 2008 will seem like Christmas, 1957 when the real monster chickens come home to roost. That flapping sound you hear is a quadrillion bucks worth of derivatives, circling the globe in a zombie flight pattern, low on fuel. Have belt, will tighten…. (let’s bring all metaphors in and mix ’em, since confusion is the order of the day in this greatest of all rigged cons)… just watch the movie!