We for This Vain Bubble's Shadow Play
If spectators felt they did not grasp what happened with banks, stocks, and mortgages to crash the world economy, The Big Short will leave them only deeper in debt and doubt. And in boredom, since not only does this two-hours-ten from director/co-writer (from a Michael Lewis book) Adam McKay bamboozle with the same highfalutin gobbledygook as the flimflam men it supposedly exposes, but also bombs as story
The form here mirrors the background it satirizes. That is, since our world is depicted as bits of self-congratulatory entertainment performances -- the lengthy cast and archival lists could do justice to past mega-spectacles -- the plot has not merely a half-dozen featured players but one thousand five hundred seventy-three littler ones in nine hundred seventeen locations, each accorded thirteen frames.
This is apt for an Attention Deficit Disorder time where textbooks hasten from one byte to another lest student interest flag. Editor Hank Corwin may have been driven bonkers on this one even if he was spared the job of inserting all the historical mood-setting archival stuff and music.
It would be insult to injury to throw in the reader’s face the acronyms thrown about on the screen, though the expanded terms they stand for are just as baffling. Knowing, for instance, that oft-referenced CDOs are nothing more than collateral debt obligations is no help.
One purpose is to reveal how corrupt our institutions are -- financial, governmental, educational, cultural -- and manifest via non-cinematic end-blurbs that Big Business blithely goes its merry way. John Q. Public surely at least suspected that and in any case remains as mystified as before about how it is done and how to fix it. Speculative bubbles are older than tulips, the South Seas and uranium mines, yet newer generations fall into newer ones.
Christian Bale is Michael J. Burry, a loner one-eyed (peewee football mishap) medical doctor turned untouchable autonomous Scion Capital hedge fund manager. A barefoot oddball sporting office shorts, tee shirts and arrogance, he alone realizes that, plagued with defaults, the housing market is another bubble waiting to burst big time. So he wagers incalculable sums against that market and the entities that finance it and are only too happy to accept the long odds.
This activity is taken note of by Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), a smart-aleck broker who doubles in narrating the film, though others, too, freeze the “action” here and there to address viewers in the dark as to what is happening as well as in the dark of the movie house. Place names are actual, as are many of the characters, firms, and terms and maybe situations and events, while the faux-doc style implies that all is honest-to-goodness gospel.
Mark Baum (Steve Carell) is fictional, perhaps the reason he is the only interesting one here. More consistently foul-mouthed even than those around him, and cynical about everyone and everything, he harbors doubts about himself and his inner scars -- hence, a shrink -- and has difficulty digesting the full extent of the rampant greed and fraud.
Last are two small-time big-dreamer kids from their own “garage band” Colorado firm, Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley,(John Magaro and Finn Wittrock), who manage to enlist retired revered market guru Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt, also co-producer). From exotic dancers in process of owning four houses and a condo through misrepresenting wheeler-dealer realtors and on to smug venalities whom “society values very much,” most everyone is on the take or the make, or else is some small fish blissfully blind about to be blindsided.
The BS Monday-morning finger pointing is easy. What is scary, though not necessarily intended, is its picture of cocky, decidedly unimpressive self-impressed, young banality not so much smart as lucky, and the greed, hypocrisy and ineptitude of those who run a major segment of the world. Just about anything would be less crowded confusing; and as cinema the two Oliver Stone takes are more absorbing. It is not only what is good for General Bullmoose and General Motors, but “Greed is good! Greed is right! Greed works! Greed will save the U.S.A.!”
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated “R” by MPAA.)