The Big Short
dir Adam McKay
scr Adam McKay, Charles Randolph
prd Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Arnon Milchan
with Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Finn Wittrock, John Magaro, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong, Marisa Tomei, Tracy Letts, Melissa Leo
release US 11.Dec.15, UK 22.Jan.16
15/US Paramount 2h10
The Big Short
Profits from doom: Carell and Gosling

bale pitt spall
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Big Short This snappy comedy-drama explores the build-up to the 2008 economic collapse through real-life characters who add a sense of hilarity to the general horror of what happened. It's an offbeat movie with a deconstructed style that works overtime to entertain us amid discussions of credit default swaps and collateralised debt obligations. And the sharp acting holds the attention when things begin to get murky.

In 2005, investment expert Michael Burry (Bale) noticed something fishy with America's mortgage market, and offered to "short", or bet against, it by buying swaps. The banks gleefully accepted his cash, because mortgages had always been the most secure investment imaginable. Soon other investors took notice, including the anarchic Mark Baum (Carell) and his team (Spall, Linklater and Strong); the ruthless Jared Vennett (Gosling); and a pair of upstarts (Wittrock and Magaro) working with reclusive ex-investor Ben Rickert (Pitt). By betting against the odds, they all became billionaires when the world's economy imploded.

In his most serious movie yet, filmmaker McKay creates a freewheeling style that playfully deploys pop culture images - the things the general population was obsessed with while their lives were being eroded from the inside by fraudulent bankers and corrupt government officials. Meanwhile, the few people who saw what was happening figured out how to profit from it. The film's snarky tone helps make sense of this while keeping the audience entertained, complete with witty explanations from Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, Anthony Bourdain in his kitchen and Selena Gomez at a blackjack table.

All four lead actors struggle with their terrible hairdos. Carell fares best as a plain-talker who refuses to play by the rules, bringing emotional resonance that's lacking elsewhere. Bale is excellent as the impenetrable genius who's sure of his mind even though others find it difficult to trust him. Gosling and Pitt are somewhat sidelined in smaller roles that are flashy and scruffy, respectively. And there's a flood of enjoyable cameos, including several who break the fourth wall and comment directly to the audience.

Yes, this is a staggeringly comprehensive depiction of the way capitalist greed eroded the system, shattering the global financial system. And even then, bankers profited from the government bailouts, pocketing taxpayer money and using it to lobby for fewer regulations. So where we are now is arguably even worse. Which means that this lively, funny film's ultimate message is rather terrifying indeed.

cert 15 themes, language 27.Nov.15

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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall