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Wick's Review

Created Jan 10, 2016 02:11PM PST • Edited Sep 14, 2018 02:24AM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Great 4.0

    The Big Short isn’t the Big Lie, but isn’t far from it either. The government hides just offscreen in Adam McKay’s seriocomic docudrama about the epic falsehoods that consumed the banking industry in 2008.

    Falsehoods one and two were Washington’s ability to safely stimulate homeownership among subprime borrowers and the supposed safety of only allowing three companies to grade mortgage securities as AAA. Overstimulated and over-regulated, stoked by torrents of cheap money from an over-accommodative Fed, the housing economy turned into a massive bubble. When that bubble burst, the Great Recession began. Yet Uncle Sam is the dog that doesn’t bark in the movie’s blinkered view, notwithstanding a cameo by the SEC.

    Instead, brilliant finance guys are depicted as useful idiots in The Big Short, which stoops to conquer the banking system’s role in a government promulgated financial disaster. In fairness, there is ample material available amongst the blowhards, bimbos and bozos of the Liar Loan era. The movie puts them to good use.

    Lowbrow comedy director McKay has made one of his funniest movies from this highbrow story, helped in no small part by a bevy of charismatic stars in rich roles. Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt & Marisa Tomei are the bold-faced names, ably supported by another dozen or so deft performances.

    McKay also breaks the fourth wall to great effect time and again, even employing direct-to-the-camera cameos from Margot Robbie & Selena Gomez, each employing her feminine wiles to explain high finance. Now that’s entertainment!

    Pity then that the movie wallows in Left Wing agitprop. For instance, Steve Carrell’s character is the consummate limousine-liberal. He doesn’t just suck at the teat of high finance, he operates in its womb, lives opulently on Park Avenue, yet reviles the system he helped create. His is a myopic POV, wielded through petulant and aggressive self-righteousness. IOW, he’s a perfect manifestation of the Bernie Sanders – Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic-Socialist Party. Useful idiot indeed, and rich too, very rich.

    The Big Short is big-time flawed, but also big-time entertaining. Plus it’s enlightening about many finance practices, both healthy and dysfunctional. It’s thus a worthy entrant to my list of Great Recession Movies.

  3. Really Great 4.5

    Christian Bale & Steve Carell dominate the movie as mildly autistic and overly bombastic hedge fund operators, respectively. Both are terrific, Bale especially.

    Playing the real-life Dr. Michael Burry, this performance brings to mind his Oscar-winning one in The Fighter. Edgy to the point of flightiness, he reminds us that he is a first rank actor, a quality often missing from his many somnolent starring performances.

    Steve Carell essays the overweening bombast of egomaniacal New Yorker Steve Eisman. Carell has long since been a great dramatic actor, yet his comedic edge gives this essentially ridiculous character true depth.

    Ryan Gosling is likewise nails as a Deutsche Bank trader who looks and acts like a master of the universe.

    Brad Pitt’s understated performance nonetheless depends on his star power as a paranoid former trader.

    Strong Supporters
    • Finn Witrock & John Magaro are cute and charming as a couple of up and coming hedgies. Magaro first caught my notice as an aspiring rockstar in Not Fade Away. He’s got a future.
    • Rafe Spall & Jeremy Strong jump off screen as minions to Carrell’s hedge fund kingpin.
    • Marisa Tomei is affecting as Carrell’s patient wife.
    • Stanley Wong is self-effacingly funny as a quant used for effect.
    • Tracy Letts brings power and gravitas as an increasingly dissatisfied money manager.
    • Margot Robbie in a bubble bath
    • Selena Gomez playing poker
    • Economist Richard Thaler plays with her.
    • Anthony Bourdain cutting up old fish.
  4. Male Stars Really Great 4.5
  5. Female Stars Really Great 4.5
  6. Female Costars Really Great 4.5
  7. Male Costars Really Great 4.5
  8. Good 3.0

    Films made from Michael Lewis books always provide telling insights into sophisticated operations, such as with Moneyball. How much editorializing to put on top is up to the screenwriters and director.

    Writer-director Adam McKay and coscreenwriter Charles Randolph add a lot of editorializing, much of it advocating criminal prosecution of bankers involved in the mortgage meltdown. This rings hollow because they ignore the seminal role of the government (as described in the commentary above and below) and because their film only shows small-fry criminal activity.

  9. Direction Very Good 3.5
  10. Play OK 2.5
  11. Music Very Good 3.5
  12. Visuals Very Good 3.5
  13. Content
  14. Tame 1.4
  15. Sex Innocent 1.0
  16. Violence Gentle 1.0
  17. Rudeness Salty 2.1
  18. Glib 1.4

    The Big Short is a highly constrained view of the mortgage meltdown. For instance, it leaves out Fannie and Freddie, the godfathers of the crisis. At least it takes to task Standard & Poors and the other credit rating firms, but never mentions that the US Government gave the three big credit rating firms their monopoly. Let’s repeat that: They had and have a government enforced monopoly. Investors were required to get their fancy mortgage-backed securities rated, but could only go to one of three firms for that service. It was thus in everyone’s interest to keep things AAA in this stunted market.

  19. Circumstantial Surreal 2.2

    The strong hand of the government was hardly invisible in fomenting this crisis. Yet it is mendaciously invisible in this movie, as described directly above and in the Summary commentary way above.

  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Natural 1.0


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