The Big Short (2015)
December 28, 2015 4:38 PM - Subscribe

The story of the 2007-2008 credit and housing bubble collapse, seen through the eyes of a handful of misfit financial investors who predicted it would happen. Based on the book by Michael Lewis.
posted by zarq (41 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Saw this Saturday and loved it. I went into it expecting something rather like Margin Call, which is on my top ten list so I was looking forward to it. But leaving the theater I felt it was actually much more - in terms of style and tone - like a Michael Moore documentary, albeit fictionalized and of course without Michael Moore. At the same time it almost has the feel of a procedural crossed with a heist film. You're watching very, very smart people solve a mystery and uncover a massive secret, yet you're also experiencing the ambivalence of something like Ocean's Eleven or Heat in that you're rooting for deeply unethical people doing deeply unethical things (something neither the film nor the characters themselves shy away from). The humor and fast cutting between scenes and characters really ratcheted up that tension for me. I kept getting caught up in the "action" for a space only to have the ethical and social implications the film is highlighting catch up and sock me in the gut a few minutes later

It's a great ride, and the acting is top notch - which ironically leads me to my one major complaint: the film felt as though it underutilized it's talent and at the same time was, well, padded. Specifically, there are multiple "slideshow" intervals where we just get a whole bunch of still shots or footage from cultural and political events going on - I assume this was supposed to "date" the events of the following scene, or somehow show the passage of time ("three months later", etc.)? Which might have worked for someone who was really, really aware of pop culture events circa mid-to-late 2007 but which to me were just a blur of visual references I didn't get, and which left me twiddling my thumbs and waiting for things to start up again. The intervals with random fourth-wall breaking celebrities explaining important core concepts were frustrating for the same reason, even if they were on the whole entertaining and well done. I remember thinking more than once that with the sort of acting talent they hired for this film, why chase the characters off the screen every fifteen minutes or so?
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:38 PM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought the fourth-wall-breaking asides were totally necessary, because how else were they going to explain the technical stuff? I liked this movie a lot and a whole lot more than I expected to.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:14 PM on December 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


The ads for this were confusing, because the look strongly suggested a period piece. Everybody seemed to be "playing ugly" with wigs styled to look like they were from... some other time. I couldn't say if it was the seventies or eighties or what, but everything looked off. Was that a total misread, or does the whole movie look like that? I was really surprised to hear it was set in 2007!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:42 AM on December 29, 2015


It's set in the mid-2000s and is about people who have terrible haircuts.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:01 AM on December 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


I get that now. But is there any reason they all have such startlingly awful haircuts? Like, is the film going for some particular look, like it's set in some unspecified decade in the 20th century? I seriously thought it was a period piece at first.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:28 AM on December 29, 2015


I think at this point "bad, fake haircuts" is how they code for "set at some point in the relatively recent past".
posted by Grangousier at 2:40 AM on December 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think the bad haircuts are supposed to signal things about the characters: they're all kind of socially off. They're Wall Street guys who can't really fit in with the other Wall Street guys and also don't really want to. His seems sorta obvious if you've seen the movie. Have you seen the movie?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:33 AM on December 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


Like, is the film going for some particular look, like it's set in some unspecified decade in the 20th century? I seriously thought it was a period piece at first. It's based on real events that happened in the 2000s.

The only other thing I would add about the aesthetics of the film is that this is a movie that dares to show movie stars schlubbed up to the point of even vaguely approximating how average looking most people are. I think that goes a long way toward the documentary-feel that AdamCSnider mentions.
posted by telegraph at 8:28 AM on December 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


The intervals with random fourth-wall breaking celebrities explaining important core concepts were frustrating for the same reason, even if they were on the whole entertaining and well done. I remember thinking more than once that with the sort of acting talent they hired for this film, why chase the characters off the screen every fifteen minutes or so?

Well, for one thing, it's funny. :)

Also, even someone whose eyes glaze over when they hear "CDO" and "subprimes" can understand Anthony Bourdain turning 3-day old Halibut into Fish Stew. :)
posted by zarq at 9:18 AM on December 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


"bad, fake haircuts" is Hollywood code for "we're playing characters that are supposed to be real in a film that is supposed to be about real events."

Unless the film is "Drive Angry," in which case bad haircuts represent a sort of pecking order, and the people with the worst haircuts are the worst people and will die in the worst way.
posted by maxsparber at 11:15 AM on December 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Remember that the characters are based on real-life ones. Christian Bales' character looks strikingly like that in real life, right down to the T-shirt in this 2010 article.

Great movie, spent Sunday lost in the internet trying to find where reality, my recollections and the movie parted ways. Interesting that the biggest issue in prosecuting was that it was too difficult to prove that any one individual/institition was responsible. Failed institutions are hard to sue. Acceptable defenses for individuals seemed to be: the actions in question were signed off by legal, approved by the board, or were the other guy's responsiblity to know the risks. The guy who created the synthetic CDO was "only" fined an approx 3 million USD and that was just this year. And some of these practices seem to be back in restyled format but with bettter protections...sure, right, fine.
posted by beaning at 12:23 PM on December 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, from this article with the hairstylist for the movie: I got to say, The Big Short was the most fun I’ve had on a movie. There is nothing like taking four of the hottest guys in Hollywood and making them look like nerds or used car salesmen. There was just something so wrong about this.
posted by beaning at 12:31 PM on December 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Have you seen the movie?

I was asking the questions because I hadn't seen the movie.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:50 PM on December 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


this was an interesting experience because the movie is funny and pretty lighthearted but as soon as it's over reality hits and I felt a massive combination of anger and sadness.
posted by dogwalker at 2:31 PM on December 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Seattle Bubble: Everyone Should See “The Big Short,” But Probably Few Will

A Real-Life Trader Talks About “The Big Short” - Brian Gallagher interviews Bob "I lost $200 million" Henderson

The Big Problem With The Big Short
It’s true that, if we had more skeptics and short-sellers, the bubble would not have grown so big, and the crisis would not have been so acute. But the everyday people Pitt’s character stands up for only flitter in the background. Only two homeowners — a renter whose landlord is late on the mortgage, and a stripper with five homes — have speaking parts. The rest of the unwashed masses exist in the film as wallpaper, seen only in quick shots of tent cities huddled around an underpass, or grim faces at a job fair. The heroes of The Big Short are soulless, to some degree. But the ordinary Americans with a soul are invisible.
Reverse Shot: The Big Short
The techniques that have served McKay well in the funny business, however, prove a little hinky in a project like The Big Short, which attempts to switch freely between several different registers. As with the caricatured characterizations of the KVWN news team in Anchorman—the arrogant Ron Burgundy, the lothario Brian Fantana, the low-I.Q. Brick Tamland—the dramatis personae of The Big Short are reduced to a few shorthand quirks.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:37 PM on December 29, 2015


I definitely got the documentary vibe off of it, especially right at the beginning. It sort of reminded me of Waltz with Bashir in that respect, which is a documentary at a very personal scale even though it's about a big event. The footage to tell that story at that level just didn't exist, so they animated it. Here, the footage didn't exist, so they recreated it with big-name actors.

And I liked it quite a bit. I liked that they were upfront about "Hey, a little bit of this is completely made up for dramatic effect". I liked the ridiculous asides to explain fiscal instruments. And I liked the overall story, because Michael Lewis is really good at making this kind of thing gripping. I'm going to need to read the book now.

The theatre I saw it in was packed. Cheap Tuesdays and people off work this week, I suppose, but it looked like a lot of couples having a date night at a movie about financial malfeasance.
posted by figurant at 9:30 PM on December 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


From Vanity Fair. These links all contains movie spoilers.

March 2010 issue:
Book Excerpt

November 2015 issue:
* Even Michael Lewis Was Surprised Hollywood Bet on The Big Short

December Little Gold Men Podcast
* Why Ryan Gosling Had to Wear an Ugly Wig to Explain the Financial Crisis (Interview with director Adam McKay
posted by zarq at 8:35 AM on December 30, 2015


I found this movie so difficult to know how to relate to. I mean, were we supposed to be rooting for the main characters to succeed? Crash faster, American Economy! There were no good guys, basically. I also really got rubbed the wrong way by the explanation bubble bath scene. At the same time, it was funny and entertaining and... I enjoyed it? But felt just, super thrown off by it. It felt more like a movie-like object than like a movie.
posted by prefpara at 12:14 PM on December 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


> I assume this was supposed to "date" the events of the following scene, or somehow show the passage of time ("three months later", etc.)?

Somewhat, but I think the more critical thing it was showing was "this is what was news, lots of celebrity bullshit that doesn't matter in the least as you watch this just 8 years later; what wasn't news was the imminent catastrophe."
posted by Sunburnt at 3:30 PM on December 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


I went into the movie expecting it to be a sausage fest, which wasn't surprising given the topic. But then the Margot Robbie in a bath tub really rubbed me the wrong way, like, okay, I am so not the audience for this movie that I am actually the opposite of the target audience. Steve Carrell was excellent though. I appreciated that the movie showed the human cost of the crisis but it could have done that more. And I generally enjoyed the part where they went to Miami for research.
posted by kat518 at 9:17 PM on December 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's strange to me that Steve Carrell, who is justifiably well known for his comedies, tends to play the same character in comedies. When he plays in dramas, he completely submerges into the characters and you forget it's the same actor. In both this and Foxcatcher, by brain says "what do I know that guy from?" because he's familiar in sound and appearance, but I just can't convince my lizard-brain that it's the guy who plays Michael Scott and the 40YO Virgin.

I look forward to watching "Freeheld" in part because I'm sure I'll see more of the "who's that guy" version of Carell.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:48 PM on December 30, 2015


This movie is kind of like a Maxim magazine version of the 2008 financial crisis; Made for Bros, airbrushed to hell and stinking like a cologne advert.
posted by Catblack at 11:32 PM on December 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think that this is the most unerotic, unsexy, un-bro film ever made about table-stakes big time players and smartest-psychotics-in-the-room. It is a simple fact that pole dancers and sexy actress-models exist in this world (in the world, actually). I don't think that the movie did anything other than utilize them for comedically deployed information transmission (Margot),
or as tragically misinformed victims (the club dancer). We actually were treated to these women pretty much spitting in all us guys' faces in contempt. The other women were loving wives of loving husbands, but, c'mon, it wasn't their story anyways. Game of Creeps and Dweebs
if HBO put it out.
posted by Chitownfats at 3:19 AM on January 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm aware that pole dancers exist. I just was annoyed that Anthony Bourdain got to give his aside while talking about cooking and running a restaurant while Margot Robbie got to give her aside while drinking champagne in a bathtub. Just as pole dancers exist, so too do women who have accomplishments on par with Bourdain while keeping their clothes on. I felt like it was a slap in the face, like the movie was telling me loudly that I was in a boys club and if I didn't like it, the door is right there. The filmmaker is welcome to do that obviously - I just thought it unnecessarily hostile towards ~51% of the population. Especially since I had already bought a ticket for the movie.
posted by kat518 at 2:15 PM on January 2, 2016 [6 favorites]


Haven't seen this movie. But does Margot Robbie's role reference her appearance in the other big movie made about the economy a few years back (Wolf of Wall Street)?
posted by FJT at 12:29 PM on January 4, 2016


Not really. Ryan Gosling as narrator says, "Here's Margot Robbie drinking champagne in a hot tub to explain..." and then it cuts to Margot Robbie in a hot tub as she explains an aspect of the financial crisis. So the only real reference would be that she appears as herself, an actress who has appeared in another Wall Street related movie.

It's probably the worst of the bunch of these cutaways as it's pretty random and gross. Anthony Bourdain at least creates a cooking analogy and Selena Gomez has one that works in a blackjack/gambling analogy. Margot Robbie is in a hot tub just because maybe the audience wants to see that?
posted by dogwalker at 1:48 PM on January 4, 2016


Selena Gomez appeared with economist and author Dr. Richard Thaler. So not even on her own.

Margot Robbie is in a hot tub just because maybe the audience wants to see that?

Maybe. But it wasn't particularly titillating, was it? She was covered from the neck down.
I have no idea why they put her in a hot tub. But yeah, it was completely random and ugh.

The movie fails the Bechdel, Russo and race tests. I have mixed feelings about that, because it was based on a true story and almost everyone involved in real life was a White guy. But there were opportunities to create diversity in minor roles, which didn't happen very often. And it feels wrong to give the movie a pass on the way it portays women simply because it was 'based on a true story.' Meredith Whitney's story was included in the source material: Lewis' book, yet she was not included in the movie. Which begs the question, why the hell not? She was one of the most prominent people in the industry who predicted the bubble was about to burst in 2007.

Adepero Oduye (Kathy) and Marisa Tomei (Mark's wife) were used to move the plot along. Both did well, but they also felt wasted.
posted by zarq at 3:32 PM on January 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


I have mixed feelings about that, because it was based on a true story and almost everyone involved in real life was a White guy. But there were opportunities to create diversity in minor roles, which didn't happen very often.

QFT. I really liked the movie Moneyball. I wasn't expecting to see tons of strong female characters in Moneyball and I didn't. But they also did not have Kate Upton explaining Bill James' ideas or Megan Fox talking about the significance of the trade deadline. I think either would have demonstrated a certain amount of contempt for the audience, and not just women in the audience but also men, implying that the only way to keep their attention is by occasionally showing someone with a pretty face. I think Margot Robbie's appearance made The Big Short a weaker movie.
posted by kat518 at 9:04 AM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I also felt pretty alienated by the Margot Robie scene - it really took me out of the experience. Generally, I thought the bro-y-ness of it was the biggest weak point, but it's not surprising given the director.

Otherwise I thought the movie was decent. It made me feel anxious and even, at one point, sick to my stomach, but I think that's kind of the intention? Like others have said, it was like watching a heist movie crossed with a procedural crossed with a Michael Moore documentary.

The wigs/makeup were amazing: I had to ask my friend who was the actor playing Vennett because it was driving me crazy (it was Ryan Gosling!). I also didn't recognize Brad Pitt until his second scene.

I had two problems with the storytelling:

- It was kind of hard to keep track of all the different entities and characters and their relationships to each other. Which is probably unavoidable in a movie about such a complicated and industry, but it was distracting. I still have no idea who Kathy was supposed to be, for instance.

- I felt like the narrative fell apart a bit in the third act. A lot of waiting for the ratings to go down (sooooo many of those scenes), and then it just sort of fizzled ... there wasn't much resolution beyond what was provided in the titles at the end, which feels a bit lazy.
posted by lunasol at 10:11 PM on January 9, 2016


I'm having a bit of difficulty understanding the criticisms of bro-ness in a movie about hedge funders. How else could it possibly be rendered, with Ryan Gosling's character treating every day as Take Your Daughter To Work Day? These are generally odious real-life characters, after all. I don't think Robbie's Hot Tub is a pivotal scene, but maybe it's intended as a parody of a stereotype of celebrity and/or luxury. I know: Poe's Law.

I still have no idea who Kathy was supposed to be, for instance.

Kathy was Steve Carell's liaison/boss from Morgan Stanley, right? Connected via that bit toward the beginning where he talks about working under MS but not for them (or however it was explained, hah!).
posted by rhizome at 2:18 PM on January 11, 2016


I totally loved this movie. The post-modern and humor aspects sold me completely. It didn't bother me that this was a movie about the rich, white dudes who run the world - we should see those people. We see their victims, briefly, and that's appropriate, but this is a movie about them.

On the sexism, I feel a little mixed. I was pissed to learn that there was a woman featured in the book (and in real life), even as most of the players in this story truly are men. Margot Robbie was great in my eyes. This was a very conscious move to me, talking about how poor we are understanding these issues, how the media chooses to (and not to) give us information, and how women are used toward those ends. Margot Robbie was one of the more meta parts of the film, and I liked her part. Marisa Tomei on the other hand was just this kind of empty character only there to serve Carrell's development. I thought her part was regressive, even though I thought she was good (she seems to always be!) and his emotional arc was important - kind of the deeper nugget in this movie about the suffering and denial behind the sociopathic behaviors portrayed here.
posted by latkes at 10:16 PM on January 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Also, I love the hair discussion in this thread. That interview with the hairstylist was really interesting and I never would have consciously thought about any of this stuff about hair!
posted by latkes at 10:17 PM on January 11, 2016


Also... Steve Carrell: I totally agree on how he did this "what do I know that guy from?" thing. I literally had that experience until the credits. Pretty impressively sunk into this role. On the other hand.... I found his playing Jewish to be distracting and basically a failure. It's weird to see someone play a specific ethnic part (that they are not) and it was off and distracting to me. I suppose Tomei is supposed to be Jewish too - I guess that curly haired Italian/Jewish thing - but again, she did not read as Jewish at all to me.
posted by latkes at 10:21 PM on January 11, 2016


(by "curly haired Italian/Jewish thing", I mean casting directors think we can all convincingly portray each other)
posted by latkes at 10:22 PM on January 11, 2016


Female Characters in the Big Short, in my personal order of most problematic to least, with an added note that this movie fails the Bechdel test by not allowing any women to talk to each other:

0. Meredith Whitney: The worst portrayal of a female character in this movie is definitely the woman who predicted the financial crisis, was featured in the book, and is totally omitted from the movie. Her absence proves that the movie isn’t just reflecting the sexism of the subject matter, but perpetuating its own.
1. Marisa Tomei: Empty vessel who is there solely to support Steve Carrell’s emotional development. This part is just offensive to me, plus boring. She has zero interests except her asshole husband.
2. Karen Gillan: This character annoyed the shit out of me as she was also a prop. She was so heavy-handedly a symbol of the federal government “whoring” itself out to the traders, rather than being an actual character of any kind. Yawn and grrrr.
3. Selena Gomez: So she didn’t get many lines, but she portrayed herself, as a smart person interested in economics. I support that.
4. Melissa Leo: this character gets point for seeming plausibly human, not being naked, being over 40, and getting some real lines. Points deducted for she is only on screen for a couple minutes.
5. Margot : I don’t think there’s something automatically sexist about a female movie star in a bubble bath. The scene seemed pretty self-aware in terms of the history of films treating women as sex objects. The interstitial imagery in the movie also commented on this a little. To me, this was a metta thing that was moderately problematic in that the filmmakers are trying to have it both ways in both critiquing and embodying the way movies use women as sexual props.
6. The stripper/homeowner: She is a smart person who was getting screwed but pretty immediately seems to understand that. She has a career and outside hobbies. Somewhat annoying given they show her in the act of stripping. I mean, he could easily talk to the stripper at a coffee shop, but obviously strippers spend every waking minute stripping?
7. Adepero Oduye: Points for being a multi-dimensional character who has bad qualities (one of the bad guys even on the bad guys terms of this movie) who also has human feelings (had a baby). She is a competent person with a sense of humor and a life at and outside of work. A few points deducted for this character being easily read as a token since there are zero other black people and few other women represented. Note: if you google, “Big Short Characters” her name does not come up at all, even though she has more screen time than some whose names do come up first.
posted by latkes at 8:53 AM on January 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


This movie convinced me that Steve Carell is one of the English-language's greatest living onscreen cursers.

As for problematic casting and such, the movie is directed by Adam McKay after all.
posted by rhizome at 11:57 AM on January 12, 2016


I definitely think there is/can be a difference between portraying sexist bros and making a sexist/bro-y movie. For instance, several people have pointed out that there was a key woman involved in this story who could have been featured but was not. I would have been fine losing the garage hedge fund guys in favor of her, for instance.

Yes, there were smart women in the movie, and in a way, it's cool to have women be the explainers. But the protagonists of the film, the ones who saw the problem and were trying to do something about it, were all men, and I'm just ... tired of that.
posted by lunasol at 1:08 PM on January 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't be surprised if it won for best editing. I like the freeze frames and how some shots were cut "short."
posted by starman at 6:24 AM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Hah yeah, wasn't it that [some of] the explainers got clipped like that? Like, "OK, that's enough of that, we got shit to do."
posted by rhizome at 9:40 AM on January 19, 2016


1. Marisa Tomei: Empty vessel who is there solely to support Steve Carrell’s emotional development. This part is just offensive to me, plus boring. She has zero interests except her asshole husband.

4. Melissa Leo: this character gets point for seeming plausibly human, not being naked, being over 40, and getting some real lines. Points deducted for she is only on screen for a couple minutes.


Worse: both are Academy Award winners, for best supporting actress. They are wasted here and it's a damned shame.
posted by zarq at 1:05 PM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Loved loved loved this movie. Carell and Bale were brilliant. Michael Barry, Bale's character, appears to me to be on the autism spectrum ... interesting that he held fast to logic while all the socially adept emotional reasoners around him wanted to bail. Same with Baum the hyperanalyst although I think his motor is of a different sort.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:01 PM on January 31, 2016


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