The Big Short a blisteringly funny take on US mortgage crisis

Christian Bale as quixotic hedge fund manager Michael Burry, the man who first spots impending doom
Damon Smith

A FOOL and his hard-earned money are soon parted and in 2008, many of us turned out to be unwitting fools when the mortgage crisis in America catalysed the collapse of financial institutions, resulting in an ice age of global austerity that has yet to thaw.

Bankers were demonised, the political establishment passed bucks as if they were handling red-hot potatoes and hard-working families paid an eye-watering price.

The Wall Street meltdown doesn't sound like ripe fruit for a cocktail of potty-mouthed hilarity and heartbreaking drama, but Adam McKay, director of the Anchorman films, begs to differ.

Stepping away from the dim-witted Will Ferrell comedies that have made his name, McKay draws inspiration from Michael Lewis's non-fiction account of the housing and credit bubble to dramatise the incredible true story of the men who made a killing by wagering against the US economy.

"While the whole world was having a big ol' party, a few outsiders and weirdos saw what no-one else could," explains sharp-suited narrator, Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), a bond salesman at Deutsche Bank with a keen nose for profits.

He is our wise-cracking guide to this high-pressure world of bulls, bears and multi-million dollar trades.

However, Jared is not the first person to spot impending doom. That honour goes to quixotic hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale).

"It's a time bomb... and I want to short it," Burry informs his incredulous boss (Tracy Letts) and bets against the housing market.

Jared gets wind of the deal and follows suit, drawing in deeply cynical hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team: Danny Moses (Rafe Spall), Porter Collins (Hamish Linklater) and Vinnie Daniel (Jeremy Strong).

Inexperienced investors Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) use personal ties to retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to orchestrate their own high-risk bets as financial authorities ignore warning signs and Lehman Brothers prepares to fall.

The Big Short is a blisteringly funny and provocative portrait of irresponsibility, fraud and gaudy excess, brought vividly to life by a superb ensemble cast. Carell and Bale shine brightest in the glittering firmament, imbuing their socially awkward oddballs with vulnerability, guilt and regret.

McKay's film is acutely aware that most of us don't speak the Wall Street lingo, so the writer-director cutely interrupts the wheeler dealing with glossy edutainment spots.

Wolf Of Wall Street star Margot Robbie sexes up subprime mortgages while sipping Champagne in a bubble bath, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain explains a collateralised debt obligation (CDO) using leftover seafood, and actress and singer Selena Gomez makes sense of synthetic CDOs over a game of blackjack.

We might not always keep up with McKay's dazzling film and its rapid-fire, whipsmart dialogue, but by the end credits, we're not far behind.

THE BIG SHORT (15, 130 mins) Comedy/Drama. Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Marisa Tomei, Jeffry Griffin, Tracy Letts, Melissa Leo. Director: Adam McKay


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