The Big Short Long on Fourth-Wall Breaking Information

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Big Short Blu-ray Oscar Christian Bale Steve Carell

When the banking crisis was happening, I was -- perhaps ironically -- working at a bank as an acquisitions analyst. (Not that I'm taking the blame for the collapse or anything.) But even then, hip-deep as I was in the business, the whole "housing bubble" was something I just couldn't wrap my head around. And if I couldn't understand it then, as a part of the industry, how could any average person figure out just how badly they were being screwed over?

Charles Randolph and Adam McKay do a bang-up job of making this elusive concept somewhat manageable in THE BIG SHORT. Adapting the book by Michael Lewis, Randolph and McKay break down a cerebral and dry subject and turn it into something informative and entertaining through fourth-wall breaks, cutaways to explanatory skits starring celebrities, and a focus on the quirkiness of the main players. This goes a long way to explaining why they won the Oscar for Best Screenplay.

Leading the charge is Michael Burry, M.D. (portrayed by Christian Bale), a fund manager who did the unthinkable: he read all the data on the mortgage bonds to see how many were behind and which ones were likely to default. Having made a determination that the failure would happen, and when, he had the banks create a vehicle for him that would allow him to short the housing market, betting on their failure.

Once the vehicle was created, a few others began to pick up on the notion -- notably people like Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) who brings the idea to irascible Mark Baum (Steve Carell), and fledgling fund managers Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) who want to break into the big time and see the short as their way to pull it off after consulting with their guru Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), a Wall Street shark who attained enlightenment and went off the grid.

The story goes out of its way to tell us when things didn't happen exactly the way as they were just portrayed -- and it's even more fun when they stop the action to tell you that things happened just as you saw it. But if that's all there was to it, there wouldn't be much to draw the viewers in.

Fortunately, there's much more to it. There's the tension in Burry's life as his investors harangue him for putting their money in what they believe is a fantasy investment as we watch the value of the fund plunge, while Burry stands his ground insisting he's right. Bale's portrayal of Burry is unique, giving the man a sort of savant-like detachment. Then there's the anger management issues dogging Baum since his brother's suicide. We first meet Baum walking into a group therapy session -- late, interrupting someone's talk, and griping about his trip there before taking a phone call and walking out. Baum's investigation into what he learns is the world economy teetering on the brink of the abyss while tap-dancing on a floor full of Super Balls is a cathartic moment in more ways than one for the man.

THE BIG SHORT is a film that requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate the events happening. But it's an entertaining re-watch, and one that should give people an enlightened view of how the crisis happened -- and a chilling look at what's happening now.

4.5 / 5.0