When the Global Financial Crisis hit in late 2008, this came as an absolute shock to most of the world. There was only a handful of people who saw it coming, and ‘The Big Short’ follows these characters in the build-up to the biggest financial meltdown since the 1929 Wall Street Crash.
The two main storylines follow Christian Bale as hedge fund manager Michael Burry and Steve Carrell as money trader Mark Baum (based on real life money trader Steve Eisman). Burry works for a big corporate company where he rocks up for work in thongs and shorts and plays metal at a deafening volume all day. He only gets away with his unconventional attitude just because he’s so damn good at his job and makes his company millions.
Baum is a money manager whose conscience starts plaguing him more and more as he keeps finding out about new fraudulent practices going on in and around Wall Street. When he finds out what is about to happen he feels pressured to act as a whistle-blower. In his business dealings Baum is involved with trader Jared Vennett (based on real life character Greg Lippmann and played by Ryan Gosling), who also believes the theories of the looming financial crisis but is only interested in the personal gain he can get from this impending crash. There is also a third storyline about two young investors who also see the crisis coming and try to convince retired banker Ben Rickert (based on real life character Ben Hockett and played by Brad Pitt) to help them in trying to making a mint out of it.
Almost every year one or two movies that aren’t really that good manage to sneak into the Academy Awards nominations just because a big hype is going on around them, often due to the prestigious cast and crew that are behind it. Recent examples are American Hustle, Nebraska, War Horse and Moneyball. The Big Short is that movie this year. With a massive cast, an important subject matter and an influential producer (Brad Pitt), this real-life drama has everything going for it and as a result it has won five Oscar nominations as well as four Golden Globes nominations. Christian Bale is nominated as Best Supporting Actor which again proves the Academy’s love for prosthetics; last year Steve Carrell got a nomination because of his fake nose in Foxcatcher, and now Bale is getting a nomination for a glass eye contact lens, that – to say it in his own terms – is “fucking distracting“.
The Big Short also got nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, however the script is one of its key weaknesses: this is a movie where you have to look up all the main characters on Wikipedia afterwards in order to even begin to understand the story you have just seen, which shows that the screenplay writers have done a pretty average job of translating the complicated source material of Michael Lewis’ book ‘The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine’ to the big screen.
Although Adam McKay has done his best to turn this story into a captivating film, it is just too hard to follow what the hell is going on with the vast amounts of jargon and financial terms and tricks being thrown around. McKay devised a way around this by having funny intermissions where the dry subject matter is explained by celebrities in quirky cameos, the best of which comes at the start involving a rising Australian star who had a breakthrough role last year in a much better movie about Wall Street. The fact that even this popular Aussie can’t make mortgages and banking sound sexy shows exactly how impossible it is to make a mainstream movie about this topic, as important as it may be.