By Bill Wine

By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Big Short kicks off with a Mark Twain quote:

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“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Thus begins a parade of “ain’t so” knowledge.

Adam McKay, the co-writer and director of The Big Short, does his level best to explain and simplify the complex and confusing concepts at the heart of the 2008 mortgage meltdown examined in this cerebral comedy-drama.

Can’t say it helped much. Okay, maybe a little. But some of us are still perplexed.

 

(2½ stars out of 4)

(2½ stars out of 4)

 

That’s why he not only occasionally breaks the fourth wall and has characters address the audience, but he calls on actress Margot Robbie in a bathtub, chef Anthony Bourdain in the kitchen, and singer Selena Gomez at a casino blackjack table to engage us just enough to listen to an explanation of what might otherwise be dry, esoteric information about things like credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations.

And it still is.

Truth to tell, however: it’s possible to be disenfranchised and entertained simultaneously. And The Big Short proves it because this is an easy movie to sit through and not quite understand.

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McKay brings his Will Ferrell-connected comedy credentials (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Step Brothers, The Other Guys) to Wall Street in an attempt to make us understand the financial crisis, the Great Recession that followed on the heels of the collapse of the U.S. housing market.

Adapted by McKay and Charles Randolph from the 2010 best-seller by Michael Lewis, “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” The Big Short tells the nonfiction story of four financial gurus who saw it coming – the housing bubble collapse, that is – and profited from the misfortune of so many others by betting against the national economy.

Steve Carell plays an investor, Christian Bale a hedge fund manager, Ryan Gosling a bank trader, and Brad Pitt an angel investor, with name changes and composite characters keeping things modestly fictionalized.

Attempting to be a history lesson, cautionary tale, docudrama, The Wolf of Wall Street companion piece, and too-big-to-fail vaudeville (can you say “bailout”?) all at once, The Big Short taps into your capacity for infuriation.

Oh, it spreads itself and its character delineation a bit too thin, which tamps down on your emotional engagement. But you still come away with a lingering appreciation of the ensemble cast and a strong resentment of the corrupt bankers, among others, responsible for the crisis.

So we’ll foreclose on 2½ stars out of 4. Even though The Big Short falls a bit short of greatness, that doesn’t make it unimportant. And much of it is on the money.

 

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