Movie Review: THE BIG SHORT (US 2015) *****

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the_big_short_posterTHE BIG SHORT (US 2015) ***** TOP 10
Directed by Adam McKay

Review by Gilbert Seah

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Michael Lewis, THE BIG SHORT describes several of the key players in the creation of the credit default swap market that sought to bet against the collateralized debt obligation (CDO) bubble and thus ended up profiting from the financial crisis of 2007–2010. But the film mainly highlights the eccentric nature of the type of person who bets against the market.

It should be noted that many of the characters in the book have their names changed – to protect the innocent or the guilty, as the case may be. The Jared Vennett character played by Ryan Gosling and the Mark Baum character played by Steve Carell have been changed from the Greg Lippmann and Steven Eismann characters respectively. Others like Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) have remained unchanged while Brad Pitt’s Ben Rickert has been changed from Ben Bockett. It is also strange that Adam McKay, a director known for his outlandish comedies like ANCHORMAN and THE OTHER GUYS be chosen to make this film based on such a serious topic. The housing credit bubble burst cost millions of Americans their jobs and houses. But it is a good bet. No ordinary person would like to see a depressing film about the Ameggedon of the U.S. housing market. McKay makes the whole enterprise hilariously off-beat, so unless one has actually been burnt, severely by what has been described, THE BIG SHORT is one hell of a ride!

For those not well versed in the world of finance, THE BIG SHORT might be too technical. But the film is not without its entertainment value. McKay explains certain terms with great humour. If one is uncertain on what mortgage credit is, he uses Margot Robbie (playing herself) to explain the term while drinking champagne in a bubble bath. McKay also uses Selena Gomez (again playing herself) to explain the various type of CDOs (Collateralized Debt Obligation) while handed a ten and a seven at a Blackjack table in Las Vegas.

There are characters in the book left out in the film. No complaint here, as the film already runs over two hours. But now wonders what magic can be added with the interesting character of Eugene Xu, a quantitative analyst who created the first CDO market by matching buyers and sellers.

The filmmakers have assembled a more than apt and impressive cast. For one, Burry’s character, a true one is an ex-neurologist who created Scion Capital despite suffering from blindness in one eye and Asperger’s syndrome. One can see what attracted Christian Bale, who appears to be having a field day, to accept this role. Brad Pitt, barely recognizable with glasses and a goatee plays the anti-hero admonishing his two proteges that they should stop dancing after making so much money for the fact that people have lost their jobs and homes a s result. Carell and Gosling also add to the festivities.
For a film based on the worst financial disaster, director Adam McKay and gang might even make the losers shed a tear or two of laughter. An amazing film with an amazing treatment of the material.

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