It stings like a slap across the face

What It’s About

A biting social satire, “The Big Short” mines the financial crisis of 2008 for laughs.

For a while it is very funny, until it isn’t. Because we realize we are the chumps who got taken for a ride, and the outrage re-emerges.

So the film, for all its noble intentions, becomes uncomfortable and sad, as we all know or were the people whose lives were disrupted, set back or worse by loss of jobs, houses and pensions. Laughing does help the bitter aftertaste.

“Funny or Die” co-creator Adam McKay, known for the goofy Will Ferrell vehicles “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights,” deftly directs a strong cast of alpha males in this witty and profane dark comedy.

It was certainly ambitious to adapt Michael Lewis’ nonfiction book about how the economic meltdown happened, “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” into a funny story.

He and co-screenwriter Charles Randolph do a fine job making intricate financial data lucid, and it’s no small feat being able to understand mortgage-backed securities and the way banks work without ever having studied economics.

McKay and company use an ingenious array of tactics to explain how the housing market collapsed. He focuses on a key core of industry types to tell us what really went down.


Christian Bale is on fire as bold financial whiz Michael Burry, the only character whose real name is used. He’s a socially awkward money manager in San Jose, and figures out what is happening long before anyone else does. And he can potentially become very rich through what others view as reckless moves.

However, he is not the only one who took advantage of profiting from misfortune. Another smart savvy guy who gambled on the outcome is Steve Carell’s fictional Mark Baum, who is based on hedge fund manager Steve Eisman, who bet against subprime home mortgages in 2007.

Carell gained 25 pounds and becomes this intolerant angry guy, always on the verge of losing it.

Ryan Gosling, looking strangely like actor Ryan Reynolds, is the narrator who breaks the fourth wall, and directly gives us the 411 as well as snarky commentary. He smoothly plays investment banker Jared Vennett, representing Deutsche Bank, who wants in on the action.

Finn Wittrock and John Magaro are small-time players ready for the big time, who are mentored by reclusive genius Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt in a small but pivotal role), who walked away from the rat race.

What Works

The film’s editing helps move the exhaustive amount of information along.

Turning tragedy into comedy is a slippery slope. When it succeeds, we have a better grasp of a confusing subject.

What Doesn’t Work

Yet, it’s hard to watch morally bankrupt people hurt average Joes. McKay does show some compassion for the little guy.

But the key players here were ultimately about self-preservation, and did what was best for them, not the multitudes affected in the colossal crash. Therefore, they are not good guys or the least bit sympathetic.

The movie stings like a slap across the face, for the ripple effects of the Great Recession can be felt today. It may be too soon for some folks to watch.

As it finally wraps up, “The Big Short” produces a heavy flow of cynicism. It may result in widespread incidences of people going to their windows and shouting, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

‘The Big Short’

  • Cast: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock and Melissa Leo.
  • Director: Adam McKay
  • Rated: R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity
  • Length: 2:10