'The Big Short' accomplishes so much. It successfully chronicles one of the most important crises of our generation and does so in an accessible and, at times, completely hilarious way. It takes us from that brand of smart, witty humor to the tragic overtones of the story in a narrative journey that aligns to the public's own understanding – from light-hearted dismissal to confusion and rage. And it gives us a string of fascinating characters, played by A-list actors testing their dramatic and comedic range
If I had a vote for Best Picture, this is the film I'd select.
Based on the book by Michael Lewis, whose 'Moneyball' material was successfully translated to the big screen despite a preoccupation with numbers, market inefficiencies and the less-dramatic side of baseball, the film presents us with three separate storylines about individuals who foresaw the collapse of the housing market.
The 'big short' itself is another way of terming what these characters did – putting their faith in the data to good use by profiting from it, betting against the presumed unshakeable rock of the economy. But achieving that gain comes equipped with initial dismissal and varying sentiments of guilt and frustration. Even as they stand to benefit, they're constantly vetting the idea, looking for some morsel of doubt that the people entrusted with preserving the economy are really so blind to what's happening around them.
Painting a picture as complicated as a world recession obviously requires some waterting down for the common theatergoer. And that's what this movie does so well. Beginning with Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) breaking the third wall to narrate and extending to well-placed explanatory cameos from popular figures such as Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez, the movie bombards us with colorful metaphors that allow us to laugh hysterically and also nod in understanding.
We can pretty much laugh through the entire first half of the movie. We meet Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a socially awkward hedge fund manager (delightfully aware of his own social awkwardness), who bets as much as he can on the surefire downfall of the mortgage business. We meet Mark Baum (Steve Carell), a brash loudmouth who sees the worst in just about everything. And we meet a pair of young guys with a startup idea (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock), who enlist the help of reclusive former Wall Street investor Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to get ahead, especially when they agree what the numbers suggest will happen.
Vennett, a silver-tongued bad boy who works for one of the banks that stands to lose big, enlists the help of Baum and his team to broker a deal that will lead to a big pay day. Carell is fantastic as the conflicted Baum, who is the perfect microcosm of the movie – a source of levity wrapped around sobering tragedy.
As we move into the latter stages of the movie, the laughs start to taper off, because reality is setting in. Rickert at one point chastises his protegees for celebrating what should be obvious to the viewer: we know these guys are right and want them to benefit, but being right means a lot of people will suffer – and not just the big bankers. It could be classified as the most unique documentary of its kind, taking the viewer through his or her own experience with the crisis – it was something to laugh at, until it was real.
With rapid-fire editing and infusion of familiar songs and pop-culture moments, the film provides a blitz of sensations that accompany the on-screen narrative in an informative and even nostalgic way. It's as if the editing itself is saying: remember when all we cared about was this stupid stuff, and we should have been looking elsewhere? The single greatest achievement is the film's ability to make a story about the economy interesting, but the makers of 'The Big Short' went even further, making perhaps the best movie of the year.