Frequent Will Ferrell co-conspirator Adam McKay has become a comedy institution in Hollywood for instant classics like Anchorman and Step Brothers, but now the director takes a turn towards the serious (though still at-times darkly comic) with The Big Short, the true story of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, based on the bestselling book by Moneyball author Michael Lewis.
Christian Bale portrays Michael Burry, a brilliant doctor and hedge fund manager who sees the writing on the wall of the housing bubble before anyone else but finds his “chicken little-ing” ignored or met with threats and hostility by colleagues due to his social awkwardness. Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell join in as various financial types affected by the situation in one of the most impressive ensembles I’ve seen in a long time, giving much needed levity to the real life tragedy but still bringing the perfect amount of gravitas to the life or death proceedings on display.
Carell is especially absorbing in the character of Steve Eisman (changed to Mark Baum for the story), battling anxiety and depression over the recent suicide of his brother, who he disappears into just as convincingly as he did Jon du Pont in last year’s Foxcatcher. The story itself is presented chronologically, sometimes breaking the fourth wall or deferring to vignettes starring celebrities-as-themselves (Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain) to explain the various head scratching “inside baseball” banking and financial terms being thrown around, and are as hilarious and entertaining as they are informative and face-palmingly, head-shakingly sad, which represents my overall feelings about the movie as a whole.
Though the film can seem a tad preachy at times, it’s important to have this type of true, modern cautionary tale plainly presented for regular folks like us who don’t constantly have their faces buried in a Wall Street Journal to learn from society’s past financial mistakes enough to at least try not to be doomed to repeat them.
The Big Short opens on December 23rd.