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Director: Adam McKay
I laughed a lot for a movie about one of the most severe events of our lifetime. Director Adam McKay probably didn’t want to produce something gloomy and prescriptive. But, despite the light-hearted portions, the film has a serious message—and its late 2015 release is surely no coincidence with the impending US election. It flicks between comedy and at times horror, which may seem synthetic, despite the film being based on Michael Lewis’ bestseller book by the same name.
At the centre of the story, Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is a socially awkward hedge fund manager. His analysis of the 2005 debt market finds an extremely high probability of a market collapse in 2007. Pitching the concept of a credit default swap (CDO) on housing to investment banks, who consider real estate to be stable as ever, he is able to ‘short’ the market by 100s of millions. Subplots for the other characters revolve around Burry’s quest to profit from economic disaster. Two fund managers (Finn Wittrock & John Magaro), mentored by Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), obtain the financing necessary to buy in on the CDO deal; and Mark Baum (Steve Carrel) uses his dealer desk gang to short the market and condemn (with no effect) the banks responsible for the mass loss of middle class wealth and job security.
The movie works, firstly because of the acting. Carrell is convincing as a hedge fund manager with an atypical conscience. Some method actors need months in a character’s environment to evolve into the role, but you can imagine Carrell’s ease of becoming the real Mark Baum as soon as the overgrown hair parting is swept right and the plaid suit comes on. Eccentric, he contrasts Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) who epitomizes the Wall Street metonym. Goslings’ character is at all times smooth as he narrates and then administers the plot as a CDO brokering Deutsche Bank subordinate.
The second great thing about the movie is the editing. While the dramatic scenes are sequenced like a documentary, the comedic scenes contain deliberate breaches of continuity. Further spontaneous cutaways with celebrities explaining key buzzwords (as an acknowledgement that Wall Street jargon is not understood by all) help to control the pace. Consequently, Margot Robbie explaining the logistics of collateralized debt obligations while in a bath may extinguish the bitter mood, but McKay compensates by making the next course more intensely anti-Wall Street flavoured.
Go in craving Wolf of Wall Street; come out sticking Sanders’ bumper stickers on your car.