They’re not exactly the Fellowship of the Ring. One guy, real-life ex-hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale, with near-Aspergian intensity), blares heavy metal out of his office as he analyses the paperwork of thousands of failing home loans. Another guy, our narrator, Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling, on fire), yells his colleagues out of the executive toilets. A third, investment consultant Mark Baum (Steve Carell), steals cabs from more patient New Yorkers as he hustles his way to high-pressure meetings.
And yet, in this subversive, riotous movie, these men are our heroes (of a sort). They are among the few who predicted the 2008 financial collapse in America years in advance. They’re an extremely unpleasant bunch to build a movie around. As chronicled in Michael Lewis’s 2010 bestseller (on which the script is based), they all made a killing betting against the banks, while billions in pensions and savings went up in smoke.
Still, it’s impossible not to be swept up by their Cassandra-in-the-wilderness craziness. Almost half-heartedly, ‘The Big Short’ reminds us – via a beardy Brad Pitt playing an eco-conscious trader – that millions of lives will be ruined. Mostly, though, the movie’s a sick thrill, a toast to the douchebags.
Director Adam McKay is the man behind movies like ‘Anchorman’. More than any filmmaker who’s taken on this subject to date, he sees the banking crisis as a shriek of ego, which it was. He brings on the smirking agents who sold multiple homes to strippers. Then he brings on the strippers and the crocodile that now lives in the abandoned swimming pool. McKay’s zaniness has a precedent: like Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Dr Strangelove’, ‘The Big Short’ is a gleeful tumble toward the apocalypse – except in this case, it actually happened. Some of the ideas here are fuzzy. But when a Hollywood comedy turns the crime of the century into a satisfying lark, you know a huge gamble has been won.