List Film

The Big Short (4 stars)

Terrifically and improbably entertaining financial crisis dramedy, featuring an all-star cast

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The Big Short

Scathingly funny, dark and impudently executed, this intensely gripping, fact-based comedy drama achieves what most would have thought impossible. It makes the cause of the global economic meltdown not only almost comprehensible but outrageously entertaining.

When in 2005 the brilliant and eccentric hedge fund manager Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale) foresees the bursting of the housing-credit bubble he – and a handful of other money men who have stumbled on his calculations – separately set about betting against the system, cynically investing in the inevitable misery and ruin to come. This will both enrich them and expose the corruption, fraud and folly in banks and financial institutions. Or so they’re banking on.

One of the players, Ryan Gosling’s arrogant, unreliable narrator Jared Vennett, breaks the fourth wall to address us directly with playful acknowledgements that this is Economics by Hollywood: ‘Yes we know you don’t understand it. No-one does. So here’s Margot Robbie in a bubble bath to explain,’ followed by, ta-da!, a foamy, champagne-sipping Robbie sexily summarising MBS (mortgage-backed securities) and subprime lending.

Based on the non-fiction bestseller by Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, and likewise developed by Brad Pitt and his Plan B production company, this is a canny combo of a righteous, angry call to arms dolled up with satirical absurdity, irony, montage, knowing cinematic and pop culture references, snappy dialogue and smoking hot performances. And what an ensemble! Bale, Steve Carell (both of whom are astonishing), Gosling and Pitt are the big-name audience bait. But the large cast also includes Oscar-winners Melissa Leo and Marisa Tomei and Brits Rafe Spall and Karen Gillan, and even the most improbable cameos (Selena Gomez, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain) are terrifically well judged and informative.

Among the revelations are the sharp wit and directorial brio of co-writer and director Adam McKay, the Anchorman man who had never previously made a film without Will Ferrell, let alone something with this much meat and supercharged with such furious energy. Grownups with an attention span, prepare to be delighted.

General release from Fri 22 Jan.

The Big Short

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 130 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Adam McKay
  • Written by: Michael Lewis, Adam McKay, Charles Randolph
  • Cast: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Karen Gillan, Brad Pitt
  • UK release: 22 January 2016

In the middle of the biggest property boom in American history, a group of financial experts bets that it's all about to collapse. A righteous, angry call to arms dolled up with satirical absurdity, irony, montage, knowing cinematic and pop culture references, snappy dialogue and smoking hot performances from an…

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