A group of financial experts predict the 2008 financial crisis and try to profit off of the collapse of the housing bubble in The Big Short. In 2005, hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) discovers US housing markets is extremely unstable and decides to profit on the inevitable collapse by betting against the housing market through credit swaps. Trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) catches wind of Burry's plan and decides to put his own stakes into the credit swap market, bringing hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) on board. Meanwhile, young investors Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) discover a flyer by Vennett and begin their own credit swaps investments with the help of retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). As the housing market does indeed begin to collapse, these individuals will soon realize the sheer volume of fraudulent activity going on in the banking system.
The Big Short tells the story of the events leading up to the financial crisis through the eyes of the four central protagonists. There are undoubtedly many similarities between The Big Short and Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street. In fact, Ryan Gosling's character of Jared Vennett, who serves as the narrator of the film, is very much a Jordan Belfort-like sleezeball, who is only interested in making money off of the collapse. Vennett is contrasted by characters such as Steve Carell's Mark Baum, who becomes increasingly disturbed as the fact that the fraudulent activity perpetrated by the banks could very well bring an end to capitalism as we know it. Even though he is the individual who sets these events into motion, Christian Bale somewhat eccentric character of Michael Burry is isolated from the rest of the events, with the bulk of his scenes taking place in his office. However, that doesn't make Burry no less of an important character, especially as he realizes how fraudulent the economy truly is.
On paper, Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights) seems like an odd choice to direct a drama about the 2007-2008 financial crisis. However, McKays skills as a comedy director are at play in this film, which tries to explain how the economy collapsed in a way that the average person would understand. Even though the film is full of confusing financial jargon such as "credit swaps" or "CBOs," McKay utilizes various celebrity cameos to explain what exactly these terms mean. Despite the lighthearted tone that The Big Short takes, the film is ultimately a very scary one, when you realize that the events of the film truly happened in the world. The banks of the world set out to profit on the misfortune of average people and they practically got away with it, thanks to government bailouts.
Altogether, The Big Short is a quite well executed detailing of the events leading up to the financial collapse, which proves that Adam McKay is quite capable of dramatic filmmaking.