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Big Short, The (2015)

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Score: 7/10

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs. 10 min.

Release Date: December 23rd, 2015 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Adam McKay Actors: Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Marisa Tomei, Brad Pitt, Melissa Leo, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong

S

everal years before the 2008 housing market crash, Scion Capital founder Michael Burry (Christian Bale) notices the subprime mortgage vulnerabilities and seizes the opportunity to invest. Purchasing large quantities of credit default swaps from numerous major banks, his unorthodox activities attract the attention of trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who in turn convinces FrontPoint Partners hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) to buy into the scheme. Despite extreme criticism from colleagues and severe skepticism from clients, the obstinate few that forged ahead and bet against the economy wound up making billions while the rest of the world lost trillions.

Taking a cue from “The Wolf of Wall Street,” in which reprehensible swindlers profit at the expense of clueless clients in a markedly flamboyant style, “The Big Short” hopes to lure audiences with its own brand of high spirits. But all of the editing gimmicks grow tiresome quickly, revealing the flimsiness of the story and the disagreeableness of the characters. Breaking the fourth wall, varyingly paced montages, slow-motion, on-screen graphics, unusual narration, and Margot Robbie in a bubble bath are but a few of the jazzy distractions aimed at spicing up an inherently boring subject: the 2008 U.S. financial crisis. If the facts of the situation weren’t so fascinating (and there are several details presented here as facts that are actually complete lies), the theatrics would be almost entirely wasted.

Fortunately, the informative, infuriating elements that contributed to that significant economical collapse are captivating enough that most of the visual devices can be ignored. “The Big Short” opts to pander to unknowledgeable or uncaring audiences, intent on winning them over with hip modes of education (though the purpose isn’t to teach as much as to merely entertain). Even the casting choices seem to suggest that Paramount Pictures and writer/director Adam McKay aren’t confident in their storytelling techniques. Ironically enough, most viewers will still be generally confused by the abundance of Wall Street jargon – and may even lose interest in the actors, who don wigs and everyday garb to portray unexceptional businessmen.

By the end of it all, the lead characters don’t appear heroic or revolutionary, or even particularly wise. Their successes in going against the grain have the aura of luck or gambling instead of intellectual brilliance. Even when they face corruption so widespread that it’s become synonymous with normal commerce, there isn’t a sense of winning or losing – merely weathering the periods of time when the villainy of banks and the government are at their most extreme. To its credit, “The Big Short” is able to use humor to bring levity to the horrors of financial ruin. But even the exposed truths of bureaucratic inefficiencies and unbelievable ignorance in oversight positions are largely diminished through quirky, mid-movie disclaimers about the poetic licenses taken to embellish a tale of staggering woe. It’s a stylish, sarcastic affirmation that the bad guys always win in real life and that the common man is utterly helpless to bring about change.

– The Massie Twins

 



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