The Big Short is a bit long

Going to see The Big Short was a strange experience. At different times, the movie had me tense, bored, entertained, confused, and in stitches laughing. In short, the film is a rollercoaster, but not in a good way.

Taking place between 2005 and 2008, The Big Short follows three groups of investment bankers who predict the housing market, widely thought to be the safest, most stable bet in their business, will fail. Acting on this prediction, our protagonists decide to “short” (read: “bet against”) the housing market, to the tune of several billion dollars. Despite being ridiculed throughout the movie for their impossibly “big short”, the venture pays off in the end, with each investor profiting off the economic crash of ’08.

The main characters of The Big Short are played by actors at the top of their game. Christian Bale and Brad Pitt are captivating as two differently eccentric, world-weary investors. Similarly charming are John Magaro and Finn Whitrock, who play two young investors far too excited about the inevitable collapse of life-as-we-know-it.

However, it’s Steve Carrell’s impatient, furious trader Mark Baum who really steals the show. Based on real-life trader Steve Eisman, Baum is an eternal pessimist who makes a point to recognize absurd practices and attitudes and point them out immediately, ending almost every conversation – and starting some – with “go fuck yourself”. In every scene he’s in, Baum is angrier, meaner, and louder than everyone else, yet still able to know when he needs to shut up and listen.

Another highlight is Ryan Gosling’s excellent narration. Gosling (who also plays Jared Vennett, one of the investors), regularly interjects to illustrate the goings-on behind main characters’ plans, and to provide explanations for various bits of financial jargon. For much of the film’s jargon, Gosling will introduce a random celebrity to perform a skit illustrating a relevant financial concept – for example: “Here’s world-famous chef Anthony Bourdain to explain more about Collateralized Debt Obligations”. These skits are the strongest moments of the entire film – one particular segment starring Doctor of Social Economics Richard H. Thaler, Ph. D., and Selena Gomez playing blackjack to explain synthetic CDOs had me laughing long after it was over.

While it’s good that The Big Short acknowledges how involved its subject matter is while taking steps to clarify it, the movie still manages to be confusing. Conflicts arise, but make little sense to the audience until they’re explained; certain concepts, like credit default swaps, are never adequately explained; and most of the movie takes place in meetings.

Despite its excellent acting and exciting cameos, The Big Short can’t justify its runtime. Instead of being excited to see what came next, I just wanted the movie to be over. As interesting as the subject is, The Big Short struggles to remain consistently compelling.

At just over two hours, this short is far too long.

Grade: C+