Based on the best-selling book by Michael Lewis, The Big Short details the true story of four outsiders who risked everything to take on the big banks during the greatest financial fraud in U.S. history. Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt deliver career-best performances in "the most wildly entertaining must-see movie of the year" (Toni Gonzales, Fox-TV).
The collapse of the housing market in 2007 and 2008 is recent enough history that most of us don't need a reminder of what happened (indeed, many of us, including yours truly, found either our incomes or our job status take a hit as a result). But what plenty of us don't know much about is exactly how it happened, and Director Adam McKay (that's right, the same guy who brought us Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby) takes his best shot at explaining it all in 'The Big Short', which is based on the book by Michael Lewis.
There's no problem finding the villains of this story – they're the big banks, be it Lehman Brothers, J.P. Morgan, or otherwise, whose seeming stupidity as to what was happening was only surpassed by their arrogance of the situation. The heroes of this story are a little tougher to sympathize with. They're a handful of traders and hedge fund managers who suspect that the housing bubble is about to burst and decide to use that knowledge to get rich off the failure of the American economy. Should we celebrate them or loathe them? Regardless, they're this movie's window into seeing how this big mess all went down.
The cast of characters begins with Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a doctor and former neurology resident who has left the medical field to pursue a career as a hedge fund manager (he was the founder of Scion Capital). Burry begins to notice all the bad mortgages that the big banks have been taking on, so he decides to use credit default swaps (CDS) against those bad mortgages, which essentially is 'betting against the banks' that those mortgages – and the housing market itself – will collapse. As long as it remains stable, Burry has to pay the banks. But every time a mortgage defaults, the bank has to pay him. Still with me...hang on, it gets messier.
A trader named Jarred Vennett (Ryan Gosling) – who also serves as the default narrator of this movie – learns of what Burry is doing and, through his own research, discovers that Burry is right. But Vennett doesn't have the investors to dive into the CDS market the way he would like to. A wrong phone call (no moviegoer would believe it if it weren't 100 percent true) to hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) alerts Baum to the whole housing market bubble, and he eventually decides to join Vennett in betting against the banks. During his research into finding out what exactly is going on, Baum learns that the banks are packaging all the bad mortgages together into groups called collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), which bundled together are given AAA ratings by the rating agencies (such as Moody's and S&P), even though they're loaded with loans about to go into default.
Still there? We're almost done! A third group of investors comes into the picture when a pair of young 'rookie' investors (there's a scene where they get laughed out of a big bank because they've only made $30 million) named Charlie Gellar (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) also learn of the housing bubble. Not being able to deal with any of the banks on their own, they decide to pursue the help of retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) in order to invest in some CDS deals.
What makes Adam McKay's movie avoid the kind of dry boardroom scenes that one might expect given the subject matter is using his comedy background to keep the pace lively and, for the most part, entertaining. The actors – particularly Ryan Gosling – frequently break the 'fourth wall' to talk to the audience. Additionally, McKay knows he has to use exposition to explain some of the terminology being used in the movie...so he uses celebrities to tell us about them. Yes, understanding subprime mortgages can be a little complex, so McKay has actress Margot Robbie explain it to us...in a bubble bath! Who knew subprime mortgages could be so engaging? It's bits and pieces like that throughout the movie that keep it fun, although when it comes time to get serious – as in the movie's final act when the market finally does collapse – McKay and the actors do a great job there as well.
I can't remember the last film I saw that was both fun to watch yet left me angry after viewing it. If you're anything like me, 'The Big Short' will rekindle your fire over how we let the big banks not only walk away from this huge mess they created, but have seemingly allowed them to return to the same practices that got us into this economic disaster in the first place. 'The Big Short' is one of those rare films that is both entertaining and important, and while it's perhaps not quite as perfect of a movie as many critics would have you believe, it's certainly something worth checking out and possibly adding to your permanent movie library.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Big Short' is up for sale on home video in this Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The 50GB Blu-ray and dual-layer DVD are housed inside an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, which also includes an insert containing a code for both an UltraViolet and iTunes digital copy of the movie. The flip side of the insert contains an advertisement for Michael Lewis' book of the same name, upon which this movie is based. A slipcover with artwork that matches that of the keepcase slides overtop. While the Blu-ray contains no front-loaded materials, the DVD is front-loaded with trailers for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, 13 Hours, Anomalisa, and 'Star Trek Beyond'. The main menu consists of a montage of footage from the movie, with menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
'The Big Short' was shot on 35mm film using the Arricam LT. It is presented on home video in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. As transfers of shot-on-film movies go, it's pretty obvious here as there's a healthy amount of grain in most shots, with even a little more intruding in some of the darker scenes (like when Brad Pitt, John Magaro, and Finn Wittrock visit a Las Vegas casino). Details overall are pretty good, although never quite razor-sharp. Black levels are strong, but not quite inky-deep. I did notice some aliasing here and there throughout (particularly across blinds that are in some of the offices depicted in the movie), as well as a touch of banding. As you can probably notice from the screenshots, the movie's image takes on that blue and orange hue that so many major releases have these days.
Overall, though, this is a strong – if not spectacular – transfer that most viewers should be happy with.
I believe this is the first title I've reviewed that came with a English DTS:X track, which is basically DTS's competition against Dolby's Atmos (whether your receiver is compatible or not depends on your model, although most high-end Atmos receivers also include decoding for DTS:X). Unfortunately, being an apartment dweller, I have not installed such a set up, but thankfully the audio here down-converts to DTS 7.1 for us less-fortunate souls. Even more sadly, I'm still living in a 5.1 world – so my experience with the audio needs to be taken with that grain of salt in mind.
One thing that bothered me the most about this track is how overly aggressive it is – intentionally in some parts, but needlessly in others. While the dialogue is crisp and clear, it's often drown-out by all the aural effects – both musical soundtrack/songs and otherwise in the track. Not only is the music mixed way louder than the spoken word, but things that really shouldn't be – like the ringing of a phone way in the background of a scene or even the characters typing on their computers/laptops – seem overly enhanced. So while there's no doubt that this is a very lively and active soundtrack, with plenty of immersiveness and surprisingly some nice LFE use that I didn't expect, it all comes across as a little overwhelming. My speakers also seemed to have a rough time handling some of the really louder moments in the track, bordering close to exceeding the dynamic range of my equipment.
Now granted, if I was equipped with a DTS:X (or even an Atmos) set-up, the above would obviously be spread out a lot more across speakers and perhaps wouldn't have nearly the assaulting feel this track did on my own home theater. But since I'm guessing not many of you have DTS:X or Atmos, you should keep in mind that the audio here is quite an assault on your ears – especially for a film of this type (I can only imagine what this track would sound like if 'The Big Short' were an action flick).
In addition to the DTS:X track, this release also offers 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in Spanish, French, and Portuguese, an English DTS Headphones:X option (which, according to the Blu-ray, will work with any standard set of headphones), and an English Audio Description track. Subtitles are available in English SDH, English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
Note: All of the bonus materials on the Blu-ray are exclusive, as Paramount has only released a bare-bones edition on DVD. Therefore, please see the 'HD Bonus Content' section that follows for a list of extras on the Blu-ray.
Give kudos to director Adam McKay and this cast of actors for taking a topic that, while important, is pretty hard to explain and turning it into a fine piece of entertainment. I can't say 'The Big Short' was worthy of being a Best Picture contender, but I was never bored with the film, and the last half hour or so of the movie is riveting. While this is something you may want to rent before making a purchasing decision, I have no aversions to giving this a solid recommendation.