Review: Steve Carrell’s Star Shines Brightest In “The Big Short”

Total Score
80%

Directed by: Adam McKay

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Adepero Oduye, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock.

 

It’s 2008. Financial institutions declare “a complete evaporation of liquidity”. Stocks drop and the housing market collapses, making for the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It leaves millions of Americans unemployed and homeless.

The Big Short, based on Michael Lewis’ non-fiction bestseller The Big Short: Inside The Doomsday Machine, retraces the steps that led to this later worldwide crisis through the eyes of those who saw it coming, and those who found ways to make a profit out of it.

First, we meet Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a socially inept, number-crunching genius with a glass eye. By going through thousands of individual mortgages, he figures out everything is about to go south. Expecting an inevitable collapse, he plugs more than a billion dollars of his investors’ money into credit default swaps – basically betting against the housing market.

Burry gets the ball rolling when the most stereotypical of Wall Street bankers Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who is also the film’s narrator, catches wind of this plan. By dialling a wrong number (and yes, director Adam McKay ensures the viewers know this is actually what happened), alpha-douche Vennett comes in contact with the film’s best character, Mark Baum (Steve Carrell). After an impressive sales-pitch scene in which Vennett brilliantly explains the instability of the current housing market with a simple Jenga tower (which was, frankly, Ryan Gosling’s finest moment in the movie), Baum and team end up buying millions worth of credit default swaps.

Meanwhile, small-time “garage-band” investors Charles Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock), get a rogue, Wall Street-loathing former banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to help them get a seat at ‘the big boy table’. Although Brad Pitt’s overall screen-time is quite limited, a scene in which he sets the two boys straight about the consequences of the crashing market is probably one of the most powerful and memorable sequences in the 130 minutes of a fast-paced, intelligent film.

Adam McKay’s retelling of the financial crisis and the events leading up to it is very dense, with a lot of information to process in a short amount of time. It almost feels like there was too much footage and too much story to tell but not enough screen-time. This could be a blessing in disguise – a slow-moving film about bank stuff would have most likely been a total snooze fest.

In a way that could almost be mistaken for patronizing, McKay attempts to ‘dumb down’ the film with cameos by Margot Robbie (who explains mortgage bonds in a bath tub), celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez. Nonetheless, the cameos were a nice break from men in suits shouting bank jargon at each other and make for a few LOL-moments, which Adam McKay has built his reputation on.

What makes this film stand out has to be incredible performances by not only the four Academy Award-nominated leads, but also Hamish Linklater, Rafe Spall and Jeremy Strong – who portray Baum’s team – and John Magaro and Finn Wittrock, who hold their own fantastically while sharing the screen with Brad Pitt.

Although Ryan Gosling does a great job as the character that could be considered the film’s protagonist and narrator, and Christian Bale plays an incredible role we’ve never seen him play before, it’s Steve Carrell’s star that shines the brightest.