Based on the non-fiction bestseller by Michael Lewis (Moneyball, The Blind Side) and developed by Brad Pitt and his Plan B production company, The Big Short chronicles a handful of diverse players and intuitive fund managers, who foresaw the looming catastrophe of 2008's global meltdown.
The story is told from three points of view - all of which explore the fundamental flaws and criminality prevalent in the banking institutions of the mid-2000s and the Wall Street con artists who profited as a result.
Michael Burry (Bale), an antisocial, heavy metal-loving hedge fund manager in California, digs deep into the spreadsheets of unpaid mortgages and realises that they're actually worthless. He takes it upon himself to bet against the bonds by accumulating credit-default insurance that will make him stinking rich when doomsday arrives.
Christian Bale as Michael Burry
Back in New York, Jared (Gosling), a salesman at Deutsche Bank, stumbles upon Burry's mathematically precise strategy and tries to convince emotionally volatile hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Carell) and his loyal team (Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater and Jeremy Strong) to invest against the banks. Sure, Baum feels guilty about taking advantage of the working class, but it doesn't take him long to get sucked into the money-making plan.
Also involved in the story are novice investors Charles Geller (Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Whitrock), who come to the same conclusion and try to get in on the action, turning to eccentric former Wall Street banker Ben Rickert (Pitt), in the hopes of securing their own high-risk bets.
Director and co-writer McKay manages to turn a true story built on insatiable greed and fraud into an edgy and digestible dark comedy.
McKay smashes the fourth wall and helps viewers understand the economic jargon (tranches, sub-prime mortgages, credit default swaps, NINJA loan applications, CMOs, CDOs), with periodic appearances from celebrities like Margot Robbie in a bubble bath.
Margot Robbie chilling with some champagne and talking about derivatives
There are no heroes or likeable characters in the movie which is down to the sheer lack of human empathy involved in the subject matter and Carell, Bale and Pitt's storylines never really intertwine.
Carell himself told TEN that he only got to work with Pitt briefly for one day and said all of Bale's scenes were filmed by the time he arrived on set.
But each of the actors warrants credit in their own right.
Pitt is outstanding as wispy bearded and enigmatic recluse who closed the door on Wall Street and never upstages, while Gosling, who doubles up as the narrator, is enthralling as the cocky deal-maker.
Carell (who is based on money manager Steve Eisman) rises to the challenge once again and proves his dramatic chops from Foxcatcher were no coincidence.
Bale, who is up for Best Supporting Actor at the upcoming Academy Awards, is credible as the barefooted weirdo investor and has a great chance at taking home this year's Oscar gong.
McKay and co-screenwriter Charles Randolph push the (brown) envelopes in every direction with their tongue-in-cheek humour and piercingly sharp screenplay, and couldn't be more deserving of the movie's five Oscar nominations (Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actor; Best Adapted Screenplay; and Film Editing).
The deeply cynical script makes no apology of its desire to nail the culprits of the crash (JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, the since collapsed Bear Stearns, AIG, and Lehman Brothers), and will elicit plenty of emotions among viewers.
You’re left both entertained and angry by the satirical absurdity of the financial farce and the US government's lack of oversight that left millions worldwide without homes, jobs and retirement plans.
The Big Short is the best bet you'll make all year.
Click on the video links to watch TEN's interviews with Steve Carell and Adam McKay