The Big Short

Year: 2015
Production Co: Plan B Entertainment
Studio: Paramount
Director: Adam McKay
Writer: Charles Randolph/Adam McKay/Michael Lewis
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Mariss Tomei, Rafe Spall, Melissa Leo, Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez

When ruthless money trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) looks straight at the camera and tells you Margot Robbie in a bubble bath is going to explain one of the arcane financial instruments that led to the 2008 subprime mortgage crash and GFC (and Margot Robbie in a bubble bath proceeds to do so, sipping champagne before calmly telling you to fuck off), you know this movie is going to break all the rules.

Fourth wall breaks by Vennett, Steve Carell playing against type as a terminally angry but smart fund manager determined to do the right thing, a kinetic style reminiscent of Danny Boyle that's a world away from the subject matter... this is less the stuffy GFC documentary Inside Job than it is Damien Chazelle's Whiplash.

You're never sure who knows what's really going on, who's playing who, who's all bluster or where it's going to end up (except in disaster). But even with such opaque characterisations speaking dialogue about the finance industry conventional wisdom says will kill a movie upon arrival, it's thoroughly entertaining and as funny as it is gripping.

Christian Bale plays it straight as Michael Burry, a finance whiz who can see the housing collapse coming but can't convince his higher ups about it. Vennett is a fast-talking banking guy who sees Burry's work and can't convince his own bosses about the catastrophe, so he takes it to Mark Baum (Carrell), who leads a four-man investment team along a road of ethics but becomes sorely tempted to beat the greedy and stupid banking sector at its own game when Vennet convinces him.

Brad Pitt as Ben Rickert is a retired trader and Zen-like master who takes two young protégés under his wing when they in turn see Burry's work and think they can bet against the market and make a killing before the global finance industry chews them up and spits them out.

And those are just the major characters – a tangle of distinctive personalities you've never seen before swirls around them like water around rocks in a stream, the brute force of either their manner or what they know diverting everyone else around their worldview like Steve Jobs' infamous Reality Distortion Field.

Looking back on the film after you've seen it, it's very hard to recall the details of the actual plot. In fact it helps to read a couple of other reviews to figure out who interacts with who and where the story goes. After the fact it's more of a sensation you can still feel, of a group of mavericks that saw it all coming and the freewheeling, profane, angry style comedy director Adam McKay brings to it with such verve.

It's certainly not the first movie about the financial crisis, and even after all we know about it, many of us (rightly) think that when you dig down through all the jargon and wheeling and dealing, it was essentially the rich, greedy people who own and operate the system extorting it to make themselves richer.

The Big Short might educate you about the deeper intricacies of that whole universe if you care for it to, but you might simply take it as a great example of casting and writing and the breakout into a thrilling new field by a director you think you know from a totally different genre. The Big Short is actually both.

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