Four-star hit The Big Short provides lessons and laughs

MoviesBy Esther McCarthy
Christian Bale as Dr Michael Burry
Christian Bale as Dr Michael Burry

Economics lessons have never been as much fun as in The Big Short, a comedic look at the US property crisis and how it impacted economically on the rest of the world.

Instead of finger-wagging, we get wise-cracking from this drama that’s no less damming despite its lightness of touch. 

The story centres on four real-life investors who predicted what nobody else did – that the US housing economy was nowhere near as stable as everyone claimed in the early 2000s and was in fact primed for collapse. 

But even they couldn’t have initially guessed how spectacular that fall would be, or how it would affect the rest of the world. 

Adam McKay takes a serious subject and presents it in a lighthearted way, smashing lots of cinematic conventions in the process. 

For that reason it will grate with some, but I found its unconventional approach funny and refreshing. 

Christian Bale plays Michael Burry, an eccentric, socially inept man whose economic skills have nevertheless made him a hedge fund manager. 

Though no one believes him, he’s convinced that the US housing market is at its most unstable in history, and will collapse within two years (by mid-2007). 

He even sets up a system to bet against the housing market – aided by the banks, who think they’re getting easy money. 

When trader Jared Vennett (a delightfully snaky Ryan Gosling) gets wind of the predictions and discovers they could be true, he joins forces with hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) to invest in the collapse. 

Meanwhile, two eager but inexperienced young investors accidentally come across the plans and when they realise they don’t have the cachet or the trades to profit from it, get the help of retired trader Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). 

A smart, shrewd and often very funny take on one of the biggest financial collapses in history, the film tells a very serious story in a very amusing and unconventional way.

Margot Robbie and Selina Gomez, for example, appear in cameos explaining complex elements. 

But McKay’s film never plays down the impact the collapse has on ordinary people, or lets his characters off the hook. The Big Short may bring laughs, but you’ll leave the cinema bamboozled by the sheer amount of detail presented, and incensed at the greed and stupidity of those involved. 

Four stars