The Big Short | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Big Short 

Adam McKay’s biting, infuriating comedy takes on the 2008 mortgage and finds entertainment gold

Sorry Star Wars, but the best movie out this Christmas is The Big Short, where all the knuckle-biting action is a bunch of Wall Street stuff you can’t understand. 

Doesn’t matter! Adam McKay’s biting, infuriating comedy, adapted from Michael Lewis’ eponymous book, takes on the 2008 mortgage crisis, and finds entertainment gold tracking the real-life “underdogs” who saw the collapse coming and made a fortune betting that the economy would tank.

click to enlarge Christian Bale is worried about mortgages.
  • Christian Bale is worried about mortgages.

Yes, it’s awkward, because you’ll be cheering on these guys, too. For one, they’re portrayed by such marquee faves as Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt, and the film taps generic expectations about rebels who succeed. Two, as squicky as these guys are, they’re right — and they’re motivated to take down even worse Wall Streeters. 

The Big Short is funny as hell — you’ll laugh through your tears of rage as you recall the epic mess Wall Street bankers made, and how you, me and everybody else paid for it. (We’re not totally blameless: McKay periodically includes MTV-style montages of all the brainless pop culture that was otherwise consuming our attention at the time.) The film also finds a couple of quieter, emotional moments, such as a trip to Florida to see “dream homes,” and Carell’s character’s growing realization of how epically rotten the system is.

The Big Short helpfully illuminates tricky financial stuff in amusing ways: Jenga helps make sense of how quickly an interconnected market can collapse, and celebrities make cameos to explain a particular instrument. Chef Anthony Bourdain stops by to explain how a CDO — collateralized debt obligation — is akin to a stew that restaurants make with leftover fish: “It’s not old fish. It’s a whole new thing.”

Or learn from one of the film’s financial whizzes: “Mortgages are dog shit. CDOs are dog shit wrapped in cat shit.”


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