THE BIG SHORT
***1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Adam McKay
STARS Christian Bale, Steve Carell
Christian Bale in The Big Short (Photo: Paramount)
(For a look at the Best & Worst Films of 2015, go here.)
Intelligent, entertaining and even informative, The Big Short plays like a funkier and funnier (oh, and superior) version of The Wolf of Wall Street — a surprise, since its helmer isn't an award-season giant like Martin Scorsese but rather frequent Will Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay of Anchorman, Step Brothers and Funny or Die infamy.
Like Jay Roach, who directed three Austin Powers comedies and two Focker flicks before upping his game with the HBO political pieces Recount and Game Change and the current theatrical gem Trumbo, McKay graduates to the big leagues, expertly guiding this sterling adaptation of Michael Lewis' nonfiction book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. It's a look at the financial crisis that occurred earlier this century, the one involving the housing bubble, the market collapse, and the banks that were too big to fail. As a subject, it stands to be both dry and complicated, and Wall Street trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who repeatedly breaks the fourth wall to serve as the piece's narrator, is aware of this. Thus, with his guidance, the script's great swatches of humor, and superlative performances by the entire cast (including Steve Carell and Christian Bale as two of the outsiders who saw the crisis coming and sought to profit from the banking industry's greed and stupidity), the film lays out the case in layman's terms.
It's an invigorating watch, at least until it enters the home stretch — at that point, the real-world tragedies pop up to unsettle and infuriate us while the villainous CEOs laugh all the way to their own banks.