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Big Short, The (Blu-ray Review)

4 Mar, 2016 By: John Latchem

Street 3/15/16
Box Office $68.78 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity
Stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt.

One of the topics of discussion surrounding the film adaptation of Michael Lewis’ book about the 2008 financial crisis was how it seemed like an odd fit for Adam McKay, a director best known for his madcap comedies.

However, anyone who remembers the end credits of The Other Guys, a wacky buddy cop caper that ends with charts of economic data McKay found troubling, shouldn’t be surprised by his taking on this project. Heck, even the satiric vibe of Anchorman 2 suggested a filmmaker looking to expand his horizons into something a bit more highbrow.

Judging from the film that resulted, the subject matter of The Big Short falls very much within McKay’s comedic sensibilities despite the story’s inherent tragic overtones. The fact that McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph managed to find a nearly perfect balance between such disparate poles is undoubtedly a major factor in the duo’s recent Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay. At its core, The Big Short is a comedy of errors that led to dramatic results.

The key to the success of translating the story to the screen is in abandoning a traditional narrative structure. Characters will step out of scenes to address the audience, comment about how unbelievable things seem despite them being true, and introduce celebrities to explain complex financial terms using simple analogies (such as Selena Gomez playing Blackjack).

Ryan Gosling narrates the whole thing even as he plays a bond salesman at the center of it. Christian Bale plays Dr. Michael Burry, a hedge fund manager who suspects the housing market is propped up by bad mortgages and decides to bet against it. Steve Carell plays another hedge fund manager, Mark Baum (a fictionalized version of a real guy), who investigates the housing bubble, deduces it’s real and decides to bet against it too. Their actions inspire a few others to make similar deals, betting on the U.S. economy to collapse.

Then the movie tracks their confusion when their bets should start to pay off but the numbers indicate nothing is wrong, simply because of how much manipulation has been built into the system. The tone would be comedic if the circumstances weren’t so dire, which is part of what makes the film so entertaining.

If there’s a drawback, it’s that the film is focused so much on the mechanics that contributed to the collapse, and simplifying the explanation of such for the viewer, that it loses sight of some important factors of how the market was manipulated, or glosses over them entirely. For example, the film seems to hold up Burry, Baum and the others who profited from the collapse almost as heroes for noticing gaps in the system, but their main motivation in looking for fraud was their attempt to profit from it based on the same type of greed the movie is targeting for causing the problem in the first place.

As much as the film wants to believe the housing bubble was driven by fraud, it was mostly the end result of people acting stupidly, relying on arrogance rather than diligence. The Big Short isn’t and shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all dissection of the financial crisis, and I hope it encourages viewers to seek out a larger picture of what happened.

The Blu-ray contains some amusing deleted scenes and a gaggle of featurettes that mostly deal with casting, crafting the look of the film and structuring the film to emulate the message of the book. There’s also a featurette about what led McKay to take on more-serious subject matter.

About the Author: John Latchem

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