Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 2015. Plan B Entertainment, Regency Enterprises. Screenplay by Charles Randolph, Adam McKay, based on the book by Michael Lewis. Cinematography by Barry Ackroyd. Produced by Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Arnon Milchan, Brad Pitt. Music by Nicholas Britell. Production Design by Clayton Hartley. Costume Design by Susan Matheson. Film Editing by Hank Corwin. Academy Awards 2015. AFI Film of the Year 2015. Golden Globe Awards 2015. Washington Film Critics Awards 2015.
The creation of Mortgage-backed Securities began a legacy of years of profit and greed that resulted in the economic bubble that, in 2008, collapsed the world economy. Ryan Gosling is on hand to explain the details to us when he’s not participating in the story, cheekily bringing on the likes of celebrity guest stars Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez to explain the ins and outs of financial world trickery that will be too complex for the general audience to understand. Even with their help, I still find that many of the concepts make my head swim, so I will merely relate the story as I generally understood it: Christian Bale‘s Michael Burry sees the crisis coming and bets against bad mortgage bonds, Gosling’s Jared Vennett gets wind of this and, thanks to a wrong number, gets a hedge fund led by Steve Carell‘s Mark Baum involved, which then trickles down to two newbie investors with a garage company (John Magaro, Finn Wittrock) who get a retired, paranoid trader (producer Brad Pitt) to help them make their name in the world of finance. The audience waits with gleeful anticipation to see the world crumble and our lovable heroes proven right, which is of course one of the most delicious perversions that the film plays on us: we love movie stars so much we want to watch them win this game, even though the losers are, for the most part, those who are watching them do it. It’s a delight to see the hubris of financial whizzes insist that Burry is insane to predict a mortgage crisis that has never happened before, but it’s not like the people he is up against are those who are going to suffer the most when he turns out to be right. This, of course, means that the conclusion will not play out as smoothly as the heist film that this one is designed after: when our heroes win, how will it sit with them considering what they see happen to millions of people who lose homes and jobs. Clever writing abound in this woefully funny film, and if at times its montage sequences and explanatory cutaways feel like a Margin Call that is pandering to the low-level masses, perhaps that is appropriate: if you’re an audience member that this happened to, it’s probably cause you let it happen, or perhaps you needed to have it explained to you this simply in the first place. The kind of bite that that statement entails isn’t a strong enough force in this film, it is sharp but never as cruel as would be necessary to really make it unforgettable, but the cast (who except for Carell are relying more on their wigs and contact lenses for their performances than anything else) keeps it moving and the dialogue is terrific.