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The Big Short (2015), explaining the real estate market crash with the best filmmaking of 2015!

April 22, 2016

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MY CALL: Even without discretely defined villains, torrid love affairs, explosions reflecting on sweaty biceps or monsters fighting robots, there are films whose very unfolding provokes powerful reactions of sentiment, self-reflection and moral justice within us. The Big Short is one of those films! If not the best film of the year, I’d posit this to be the best filmmaking of the year. Don’t miss this. MORE MOVIES LIKE The Big Short: Recount (2008), Margin Call (2011), Too Big to Fail (2011), Game Change (2012), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), The News Room (2012-2014), Freakonomics (2010) and Moneyball (2011).

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The Big Short is an edgy, contemporary film utilizing comically informative fourth-wall-breaking asides and surprise cameos by celebrities explaining economic concepts in layman’s terms. This is basically the Deadpool (2016) of exposé-style financial movies, so let’s try not to miss this one!

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As the story unfolds and we delve deep into the investment banking world, we cut to interjections like “and now here’s Margot Robbie drinking champagne in a bathtub” and she (Margot Robbie; Suicide Squad, The Wolf of Wall Street), as herself, explains the terminology and investment strategy in question. There are other surprise celebrity cameos and I’ll dare not spoil any more for you…just know that they add something very special to this already exceptional film and keep it from being anything but boring. Actually, I found it wildly entertaining!

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The cast does an amazing job delivering a topic formally most interesting to Forbes-minded, Wall Street Journal-subscribing middle-aged investment bankers. The script is stylishly packaged to appeal to young filmmakers, mainstream movie fans and those who delight in raunchy comedies alike. This may sound unrealistic, but my father and I both loved it. He (a doctor) watches almost nothing but business news in his spare time and I (an entomologist) usually stick to horror and martial arts flicks. This should say something about the compelling appeal about this film. And it’s something exceptional.

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Assuming the narrative disclosure’s honesty, the film even delights in pointing out that “yes, that [real life event] really happened” or “well, actually that’s not how it happened.” I found this style most charming. It reminded me of when I nearly pissed myself laughing watching Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson grilling hands in Pain and Gain (2013)–which, according to the movie, was “still a true story” at that point.

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The cast finds Marisa Tomei, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling reuniting from Crazy, Stupid Love (2011). Ryan Gosling (Drive, Only God Forgives) effortlessly slips into the sleek role of Jared Vennett, a character that embraces Gosling’s smooth talking yet jerky charisma while successfully suppressing his Hollywood pervasiveness as a sex symbol.

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Meanwhile, just one nervous tick away from full-blown Asperger’s we find Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Rises), who likewise sheds his sex appeal and dominates our attention as the medical doctor-turned-prodigy investor Michael Berryman. We watch as he struggles to wrestle his ill-explained yet thoughtful insights to his hedge fund-managing employers that “just don’t get it.” Not only do they not understand why he would bet against the American mortgage industry (i.e., invest in “shorting” mortgages, hence the title), they actually think he’s gone insane and so does the remainder of the investing world. The data is there, but nobody is looking at it. So they all blindly follow, chant and worship the golden mortgage idol, “the bedrock of the American economy” during the NINJA (i.e., no income, no job, approved) subprime loan era that inflated the bubble whose burst was heard round the world.

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Carell and his investment team are somehow likable (to the audience) as a group of otherwise easily dislikable analysts. They serve as our investigators, skeptics-turned-believers in the crusade to expose the great lie beneath. Whereas Bale is the brilliant and somewhat self-interested prodigy seeking to profit from the realized pending bubble, Carell’s team represents our protagonists. Bale is the laughing stock Victor Frankenstein to Carell’s fanatical and oft-doubted Van Helsing.

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More closely reminiscent of a misunderstood movie physicist, Bale doesn’t wish to share his insights. Meanwhile Carell is more the whistleblower, the high proselytizer of the truth to Bale’s ill-understood Frankensteinian invention of shorting the real estate market. Carell is a classically guilt-tortured character who channels his energy into making The Big Short into his personal crusade. His mission of discovery reveals only horrors: exotic dancers with five houses, loan officers who brag about submitting mortgage applications for clients with neither jobs nor FICO scores (i.e., NINJA loans), alarming payment delinquency in nice neighborhoods and, worst of all, bogus financial ratings.

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From sleek to geek.

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As if taking a trip to financial Oz, Bale is the brain, Carell the heart, and Gosling the pretty face from Kansas, but it’s Brad Pitt (Killing Them Softly, World War Z) who breathes harrowing soul into the film. Regardless of the financial or moral incentive, Carell and Bale are most concerned with “being right” and proving it to others. Pitt, however, has no horse in this race and illustrates the terrible reality of what it means to regular, average, tax-paying Americans if all this turns out to be true–and the audience FEELS it because we’ve, in fact, lived through it! But so easily do we forget our hardships long after they’ve passed. This film does a Hell of a job reminding us, even touching those who were not so harmfully left in the wake 10 years ago in the crash.

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Director Adam McKay (Stepbrothers, Anchorman 2, The Other Guys), known for his immature manchild R-rated humor flicks, stitches together varying and familiar filming styles into this contemporary masterpiece that is sure to please. I was quite impressed and honestly never wanted this movie to end. The powerful emotional response I felt was tremendous. I was reminded of my reactions to such films as The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Rush (2013), Castaway (2000) and A River Runs Through It (1992).

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Among Ex-Machina (2015) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), The Big Short was among the best films of the year! Maybe tied for my favorite of the year, and not a single CGI alien or machine gun to be found!

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Even without discretely defined villains, torrid love affairs, brilliant orange explosions reflecting on glistening sweaty inflated biceps or giant CGI monsters fighting giant CGI robots, there are films whose very unfolding provokes powerful reactions of sentiment, self-reflection and moral justice within us. The Big Short is one of those films! If not the best film of the year, I’d posit this to be the best filmmaking of the year and among five Academy Award nominations it won for Best Adapted Screenplay. Don’t miss this!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2016 11:57 am

    It’s a smart movie that not only informs, but entertains, too. The best kind of film-making, honestly. Nice review.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      April 22, 2016 4:54 pm

      Many thanks. This film affected me far more than I would have expected.

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