Today’s Prayer Focus
Copyright, Paramount Pictures

The Big Short

also known as “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” “La gran apuesta,” “A Grande Aposta,” “A Queda de Wall Street,” “A nagy dobás,” See more »
MPA Rating: R-Rating (MPA) for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity.

Reviewed by: Gabriel Mohler

Moral Rating: Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: Adults
Genre: Drama Adaptation
Length: 2 hr. 10 min.
Year of Release: 2015
USA Release: November 12, 2015 (festival)
December 11, 2015 (select—7 theaters)
December 23, 2015 (wide)
DVD: March 15, 2016
Copyright, Paramount Picturesclick photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Paramount Pictures Copyright, Paramount Pictures
Relevant Issues

Global collapse of the economy

Men who made millions from the global economic meltdown

Mark Twain quote: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Fraud in the investment industry

Copyright, Paramount Pictures

Greed in banking

Money in the Bible

Copyright, Paramount Pictures
About the real people upon whom this movie’s characters are based

Dr. Michael Burry (portrayed by Christian Bale)
Greg Lippmann, fictionalized as Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling)
Steve Eisman, fictionalized in the movie as Mark Baum (Steve Carell)
• Ben Hockett, fictionalized as Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt)
• Charlie Ledley of Cornwall Capital, fictionalized as Charlie Geller (Jon Margaro)
• Jamie Mai of Cornwall Capital, fictionalized as Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock)
• Joel Greenblatt, fictionalized as Lawrence Fields (Tracy Letts)

The non-fiction book on which this film was based, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

Copyright, Paramount Pictures

Are we living in a moral Stone Age? Answer

How do I know what is right from wrong? Answer

How can I decide whether a particular activity is wrong? Answer

About sin and the fall of mankind

INVESTING—Does the Bible share any wisdom about investing? Answer

Copyright, Paramount Pictures Copyright, Paramount Pictures Copyright, Paramount Pictures Copyright, Paramount Pictures
Featuring Brad PittBen Rickert
Christian BaleDr. Michael Burry
Ryan GoslingJared Vennett
Marisa TomeiCynthia Baum
Steve CarellMark Baum
Melissa LeoGeorgia Hale
Finn Wittrock … Jamie Shipley
Karen Gillan … Evie
Max Greenfield
See all »
Director Adam McKay
Producer Plan B Entertainment
Regency Enterprises
Brad PittProducer
See all »
Distributor: Paramount Pictures Corporation. Trademark logo.
Paramount Pictures Corporation
, a subsidiary of ViacomCBS

Wow. I’m not quite sure what to say about “The Big Short.” It’s one of those films that leaves you silently thinking about it long after you walk out. When I caught wind of a true-story finance drama starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt, let’s just say I really hoped this review assignment would be available. And I wasn’t disappointed with the quality! As someone who is no expert on government-level finances, I found many things in the film hard to understand—and yet I never grew bored! On the down side, it was also hard to pay attention to the dialog when I was constantly adding tally marks to the language record.

Based on the non-fiction book by Michael Lewis (which I have not read), the movie’s plot follows four men who take advantage of the collapse of the economy—Michael Burry (Christian Bale), Mark Baum (Steve Carell), Jared Vennet (Ryan Gosling), and Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt)—and two young men who worked with them. Christian Bale plays a very convincing geek, Steve Carell is hilariously entertaining, Ryan Gosling’s laid-back nature perfectly fits his self-serving character, and Brad Pitt is Brad Pitt—the same scene-stealer he always is. While these four celebrities deserve much praise, so do the two important young actors: Jamie Shipley as Finn Wittrock, and Rafe Spall as Danny Moses. These roles were equally impressive, as ambitious young men who want to make money.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I will address the language. It was way more prevalent than I had expected. God’s name was only used in vain 4 times—twice with d**n, as was Jesus’s name—once used with Christ and including an f-word. I counted 67 f-words (1 written, 3 with mother), 8 h*lls, 40 s-words, 3 d***bags, 4 *sses, and 1 pr*ck.

There are very few scenes involving sexual content, but the worst one is what pushes the moral rating from Offensive (due to language) to Very Offensive. Mark has to talk to a stripper about a business deal, and reluctantly agrees to talk at the strip club. I will note that he is obviously annoyed by her behavior. Unfortunately, breasts are shown—briefly, but close and clear. It’s worth noting that there is some genuine significance in the strip club: it adds to the character of the frowned-on and true-to-life recklessness of Mark’s colleagues. But it’s also worth noting that the nudity is unnecessary and, for Christian viewers, will cancel out any positive elements the scene may offer.

The movie is not only educational, but the ending does deliver a positive message. Sometimes, if evil wins at the end, it can actually be more thought-provoking—if it’s done in the right way. And this movie definitely does do it right—underhanded moves are not made to look good. We are shown the tragic consequences of the bad guys” victory, and it inspires us not to be like them. On a side note, also I approve of evil winning at the end if it is a mere honest reenactment of what really happened.

The writers and directors could easily have made this a PG movie. Some will argue that the language is merely an accurate portrayal of what the world is like—and I can respect that to a degree. But the language in this film is gratuitous. Would the real-life people have had more dignity in their offices? I don’t know. But even realism probably wouldn’t have demanded a few f-bombs in almost every single scene.

I will add that it’s pretty obvious when the nudity is going to start, and where the scene ends—so closing your eyes for that scene might not be too hard. For mature viewers who take interest in financial events, this film might be worth watching—you’ve been cautioned. But I would advise you not to watch this film just for the cast, as many would understandably do. The people who made this movie knew what they were doing and how to do it. And they succeeded. But despite its positive messages, it falls short of a moral recommendation, due to its big vulgar side.

  • Violence: Minor
  • Profane or vulgar language: Extreme
  • Sex/Nudity: Heavy

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—This film depicts serious issues about greed, the economy, manipulation of a deregulated finance industry and the meaning of wealth, and how they sank the economy causing lost jobs, lost homes and lost lives. It does so in a way that entertains through interesting, if flawed, characters, amusing presentations of complex financial ideas in entertaining ways involving among other things a lady in a bubble bath, an alligator in a swimming pool, celebrities at a Las Vegas roulette table and (most offensive to your reviewer) a breast exposed stripper who is explaining her purchase of 5 houses and a condo with teaser rate mortgages.

A constant atmosphere of arrogance, duplicity and taking advantage of others characterizes the finance industry and those who are supposed to be guaranteeing integrity of the system and protection of ordinary people are all on the take. The underlying result of the story is, of course, a national recession and loss of wealth in which the perpetrators are bailed out and no one is held accountable.

The Bible, of course, is filled with admonitions about greed and the love of money that are clearly running amok in this film. This exceeds in importance the extensive amount of cussing heard in the film (from “good” as well as bad characters. We can ask if it contributes to all the harm that is done in the world depicted) and the minor amount of nudity. Whether the mix of comedy, financial complexity and character study accomplishes its purpose, motivates us to look at and make the economic system more what Jesus would want, or succeeds as a work of art or entertainment, this is certainly a enjoyable and significant film that hopefully gets us thinking about what we are supposed to be doing.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Stanley Hirtle, age 71 (USA)
Neutral—This is another one of those movies where, if you’re not familiar with the world depicted, and I don’t understand the world of finance trading, it is very hard to understand the script. I can honestly say I did not understand a single sentence spoken by the main characters. Their lines were full of financial jargon and lingo and acronyms. I did see the movie through to the end, because I was watching the setting, the types of people portrayed.

I am giving it a neutral rating because maybe someone else can understand what is being said on the screen, but for me, I am glad I paid for it with a low cost senior discount ticket. Now I will Google some of those characters and see what I can learn about this tragic financial fraud and collapse in our country that ruined the lives of so many millions of people.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
Halyna Barannik, age 69 (USA)
Neutral—The movie was about mortgage fraud and how the banks and brokers encouraged and profited from the manipulation. A few investors figured out what was going on and so “shorted the market” to profit from it. I read the book about 5 years ago, and the movie is somewhat based on it. I was able to follow the financially technical conversations.

There were a lot of F-bombs all throughout the movie, and there was a bit of nudity, but you get the PG version of what this industry is really like. The stock market is a den of thieves set up like a gambling casino run by a bunch of drunken sailors. Their stock and trade is hubris, fraud and vileness. So the language and ethics in any movie about this industry will be bad.

Despite being so smart, their greed gets them into trouble. I thought the story line was a bit disjointed, but considering the complexity, they did a fair, not great job. The acting was OK, nothing spectacular, however Brad Pitt was thoroughly unconvincing.

Should a Christian be watching such a movie? I would give a qualified “yes,” only if that Christian is employed in the financial market. Every once in a while, a swindler runs off with the bank, and there is a need for an honest person to sort things out, and that is where the Christian is needed and will shine.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
Chris, age 56 (USA)
Negative—I tried watching this movie in its entirety, twice, but I had to stop both times—once because I didn’t understand almost anything, and there was lots of dialogue so I wound up falling asleep, and the second time because again I didn’t understand anything and was terribly bored. For someone whose interest and career is finances, they may understand and like this movie. By the way, I am a normal intelligent person, but why produce a movie that so many people will not understand? People will probably go to see this movie since it has several famous actors, but I warn you, it will probably be a let down for you.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
Janis, age 63 (Spain)
Movie Critics
…“The Big Short” somehow makes the '08 housing collapse entertaining… very funny movie… the profanity-laden humor of macho camaraderie is much in evidence here… The film packs in so much information and comedy, it would be fun to see it twice…
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
…A true crime story and a madcap comedy, a heist movie and a scalding polemic, “The Big Short” will affirm your deepest cynicism about Wall Street while simultaneously restoring your faith in Hollywood. …This is a terrifically enjoyable movie that leaves you in a state of rage, nausea and despair. …
A.O. Scott, The New York Times
…a strenuously unfunny comic drama… both the behavior of the characters and the viewer responses sought are so repetitive and unchanging that it all becomes wearisome well before the far overlong feature wraps up. …
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
…Adam McKay's financial-crisis comedy turns a dense economics lecture into a hyper-caffeinated postmodern farce. …some important plot points are nearly impossible for laypeople to decipher even with cheeky, fourth-wall-obliterating tutorials…
Andrew Barker, Variety
…an improbable triumph… swings mainly between elation and mania… even manages to be instructive, both whimsically…and philosophically. …
Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal
…Star wattage and fourth wall breaks can’t save this preachy adaptation… “The Big Short” plays like a trying lecture… [3/5]
Nigel M. Smith, The Guardian (UK)
…isn’t a drama and isn’t quite a comedy, but more like a bitter farce. …it gives one of the clearest explanations of the collapse that has been put on film…
Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle
…“The Big Short”is a condescending mess… The main purpose of the film seems to be to encourage the actors to go bonkers playing up the eccentricities of their unfortunately coifed characters. …instead of being charming rogues, the principal characters strike a hurt and sorrowful tone as they rake in the millions, a choice that strips the film of any cheap vicarious thrills and makes the supposed comic lark about as fun as sleet. … [1/4]
Kyle Smith, New York Post
…this wildly entertaining satire can be uneven or strident at times, but director and co-writer Adam McKay taps into society’s pent-up frustration and anger at Wall Street arrogance and lets it burst forth over two very engaging hours. …
Tim Grierson, Screen Daily

PLEASE share your observations and insights to be posted here.