The Big Short (Paramount Pictures, R)

bigshort sqThis movie wants you to be angry about the financial crisis, when instead, you’ll be angry about what a bad film this is. 

 

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Another of our bankers-with-a-heart-of-gold is Michael Burry (Christian Bale, marginally frumpied up). His character is the first to predict the financial crisis—and also the first to bet on it—and he spends the whole movie trying to convince everyone he’s right.

Beyond our main cast (and understand that I only really hit the major players in bigger roles; there are also plenty of big roles filled by less-recognizable actors, as well as smaller roles played by big actors), on three occasions there’s a random and insulting celebrity cameo thrown in to explain financial jargon to the audience, such as collateralized debt obligations. The first of these is done by none other than Margot Robbie, and this after it had long since been apparent how much the movie was trying to be The Wolf of Wall Street. Later we get Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez, both of whom insult the audience’s intelligence (we can only pay attention to boring numbers stuff if a pretty person is relating it to us, duh). It reeks of the showdowns at the ends of McKay’s Anchorman movies in which he calls in all of his famous friends to make quick appearances in whatever project he’s currently working on, for no other reason than because people like to look at celebrities, regardless if they advance the material or not.

To be fair, I’ve yet to find a work of fiction about the financial crisis that has worked for me. J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call was fairly acclaimed back in 2011, but that one only felt so-so, and the talented novelist Paul Murray just tackled the material from an Irish perspective in his new book The Mark & the Void, which was more lacking that one would expect of someone of his stature. If you want to learn more about the financial crisis, for now, at least, you should stick with nonfiction. The best place to go is the aforementioned doc Inside Job, but also Michael Lewis’s source book for this film wouldn’t be a bad place to start. 

In the end, The Big Short is a movie that wants you to leave the theater angry about how the financial crisis came to pass (and I certainly am angry about that), when instead, if you have any cinematic intelligence, you’ll instead leave the theater angry about what a bad film this is. | Pete Timmermann

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