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Large big short carell gosling
Paramount
FILMARTICLE

THE BIG SHORT, Adam McKay's Star-Heavy Wall Street Takedown, is One of the Year's Best Movies

The director of raucous comedies like TALLADEGA NIGHTS and STEP BROTHERS switches gears for this similarly funny but harshly eye-opening fictionalization of the U.S. economy's 2008 meltdown.

It's hard to believe that director/co-writer Adam McKay didn't find room for Kanye West's "Runaway" in The Big Short, his hilarious and scathing indictment of the financial monsters behind the 2008 economic collapse. McKay does use a past hip-hop hit, but it's Ludacris and Pharrell Williams' 2006 booty-shaking anthem "Money Maker," the video for which is interspersed throughout a montage showing Wall Street fat cats wheeling and dealing through fat-stack transactions. But Kanye's "Runaway" perfectly encapsulates The Big Short's tone with its self-aware and celebratory hook: "Let's give it up for the douchebags! Let's give it up for the assholes!"

Based on Moneyball author Michael Lewis' 2010 book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, McKay's film is a pre-apocalyptic comedy that's part Dr. Strangelove and part Anchorman, the latter classic's DNA coming from McKay himself, who directed Will Ferrell's funniest movies, including Ron Burgundy's two misadventures and the gloriously idiotic Step Brothers. The Big Short retains those films' zaniness without trivializing its abject, real world horror. To help demystify the Wall Street scene's often foreign-sounding jargon, McKay executes one of The Big Short's many subversive home-runs, having celebrities like Margot Robbie and Anthony Bourdain explain terms like "extrapolation bias" and "collateralized-debt obligations" while taking a champagne-assisted bubble bath and gambling in a Las Vegas casino, respectively.

The Big Short's guide is Ryan Gosling's Deutsche Bank moneyman Jared Vennett, a fictionalized version of real-life mortgage trader Greg Lippmann; Gosling narrates the film, often directly into the camera, with a slick-tongued arrogance that's Zack Morris by way of Patrick Bateman. Gosling's Vennett is just one of The Big Short's antiheroes. Christian Bale plays the eccentric San Jose money manager Michael J. Burry, an antisocial, heavy-metal-loving ex-neurologist suffering from Asperger's syndrome who's the first person to foresee the impending housing crisis years before the 2008 disaster and, as a result, the first to bet against the booming housing market to preserve his own self-interests. Word about Burry's plan spreads to New York hedge-fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell), a foul-mouthed and neurotic guy harboring demons that stem from a terrible family tragedy, and young hot-shot garage traders Jamie Shipley (Finn Whitrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro), who rope in their organic food connoisseur of a mentor, Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). As the economy gradually dissipates, The Big Short's rogue’s gallery of protagonists race to beat the imploding system—they're heroic only for themselves, doing whatever they can to net mega bucks before the world's Average Joes and Janes lose everything.

Despite his background of sophomoric man-child comedies, McKay is a spot-on choice to tell The Big Short’s story of terrible people doing terrible things. If Lewis' book were in someone like Aaron Sorkin’s control, its presentation of one of modern-day history’s darkest events would be punishingly maddening to the point of being repelling. The characters would be handled like they're devils in suits, but McKay’s treats their ridiculousness akin to Ron Burgundy or Talladega Nights' Ricky Bobby. McKay's absurdist sensibilities zone in on the economic collapse's key players' egos and extrapolate humor from their collective unpleasantness—the scene where Gosling's Vennett explains how to basically sell out the American people by using Jenga to Carell's Baum is both laugh-out-loud funny and tough to watch if you're one of the multi-million people affected by their actions.

McKay makes our national nightmare not only palatable, but also hugely entertaining. The Big Short has topless strippers, crocodiles in swimming pools, and The New Girl's Max Greenfield caked in bronzer to offset its unavoidably gloomy realities. McKay is audacious and daring enough to have bubblegum pop star Selena Gomez say things like "synthetic subprime mortgage bond-backed CDO" with a straight face, and to segue into The Big Short’s scenes set in Las Vegas during a financial traders' convention, a.k.a. a congregation of Wall Street's biggest ghouls, with The Phantom of the Opera's theme music. Those flourishes are what make The Big Short a worthy counterpart to Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street—together, the two films would be a great, Kanye-approved "Let's Toast to the Scumbags" double feature.

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