This is a true story

Based on the true story of the ’08 mortgage crisis that eventually led to the downturn of the global economy, The Big Short crafts a thrilling and infuriating tale of complicit capitalistic deception.

By the time the whole housing bubble popped, leaving devastation in its path, I was a college junior studying economics. Under the guidance of a passionate and dedicated professor aware of the historical importance of those events, I learned the ins and outs that led to the financial crisis – so going into the film I understood better than most. Despite this, even I was drawn into and maddened by the chain of events laid out by The Big Short.

We all remember the largest financial collapse in modern times erupting in mid-2008 thanks to sub-prime mortgage crisis, but few recognized the grander impact it would have on the economy with even fewer understanding what happened. Years in advance, four players in the world of finance predict the 2008 financial crisis, revealing an intricate web of duplicity on the part of big banks, whose only focus is greed induced monetary gain regardless of the long term consequences. The Big Short not only attempts to explain what caused the crash but with the approachability that could only be crafted from Hollywood flair.

After watching the film, you may still not truly understand what caused the housing crisis and how its reach reverberated tenfold in the form of a global recession.  I spoke with several people who were still puzzled even after watching the film.  In a way that is a flaw that speaks of the film in due to its levity regarding the technicalities of the events leading up to the recession, but it isn’t lack of trying on behalf of Adam McKay.

The fact that McKay and Charles Randolph even take on this material and yielded this result is a testament to their creativity.  McKay utilizes all the stops to make the material entertaining without dumbing it down completely in both his direction and writing. There are metaphors, allegories, and even tangible symbolism in the form of Jenga and Vegas blackjack to try and help you comprehend. Not to mention the celebrity cameos to keep your attention during the technical explanations of jargon that would otherwise lead your brain to wander.  It is that same stylization that may not be suitable for some people, especially those that loathe when a story is bastardized beyond recognition by the Hollywood machine.

In other hands, Michael Lewis’s novel could have been a dreary and dense drama that no one would have seen. Instead, The Big Short is lively and easily digestible for the masses. Its characters are each simplified to voices the film needs represented: Brad Pitt is the moral conscience, Steve Carell is the retributive rage, Christian Bale is the informative foundation, and Ryan Gosling is the narrator.  There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the characters in the film have real life individuals from which they are based, but are assuredly so far removed they no longer resemble their counterparts.  The film even openly admits of the liberties it takes in changing the facts to make the story more streamlined for adaptation.  While watchable, it does detract from the sobering reality of the financial industry.

Another gripe with the film is the hair and make-up, and I’m looking at you Adruitha Lee. While this may sound superficial it has a huge impact on the movie viewing experience. We go to the theater to get away, to be drawn into entertainment and away from the burdens of our lives. This is impossible with the blaringly cheap and cheesy fake hair pieces the actors are forced to wear. This minor detail leads you to never forget you are watching a recreation, that the actors are basically playing ‘dress up,’ and personally, I find it to be inexcusable.

A good film will make you feel something while you watch it, a great film will make you feel something after it is over. The Big Short is a great film, making you feel tense and frustrated by your impotency as you watch and furiously dejected once it is over by the impunity of Big Banks.  Watching, knowing there was knowledge and hindsight, you will be incensed and that is what the filmmakers behind The Big Short were hoping.