So, can a movie about economics and investments be entertaining?  It can with a great cast, a very good director, and some quality source material.  The Big Short, based on the book by Michael Lewis, explores the build-up and burst of the housing bubble just a few short years ago.

The Big Short follows three different groups, all trying to profit from the unimaginable.  Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a socially awkward and brilliant hedge fund manager, sees what he believes is an imminent collapse on the housing market based on subprime loans (mortgages made to people who can't pay them back).  He creates a credit default swap, where he pays money if the loans are secure but profits if they collapse.
Sleazy investor (and narrator of the movie) Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) learns of Burry's plan and decides to jump on board, to make as much money as possible.  Trader Mark Baum (Steve Carrell), a man with a conscience, haunted past, and a nose for smelling scams, winds up potentially working with Vennett and exploring America with his team to find out what's behind these failing mortgages.

Meanwhile, young investors Charlie Gellar (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) get word of this idea and work with retired and paranoid former investor Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to start buying up as many credit default swaps as they can.

The result of this is the revelation of a presumed safe and secure housing market that's amazingly precarious, run by people interested in short-term profits ("I don't get it.  Why are they confessing?"  "They're not confessing."  "They're bragging.") and organizations that keep saying everything is fine even when the collapse has begun.

Director Adam McKay recognizes that talking about finances can be dry and potentially boring, so he has several characters break the fourth wall to talk directly to the audience.  He also brings in Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, and Selena Gomez as themselves to explain the financial concepts.  These feel gimmicky and may provide a little levity but could have been left out.

What works is the rest of the movie.  McKay gets the best from his actors, and everyone delivers a terrific performance.  Having Baum exploring the real world for the background to this crisis (and barely suppressing his rage and frustration at what he finds) brings the movie from abstract banking discussions to the real-world ambitions, greed, and stupidity that led the economy over a cliff.  And as the audience gets into the feel of the financial shenanigans happening, we are drawn into the outrage of a self-perpetuating system of unfettered greed and self-enforcing cover-ups that continually say everything is fine.

The Big Short isn't perfect, but it gets a lot of entertainment from a global shell game of the housing market.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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