The main characters here are all guys who, in one way or another, saw the 2008 financial crisis coming and found a way to profit from it.
The way they do so is tricky to explain, though the movie, based on a 2010 nonfiction book by Michael Lewis of the same name, does a good, funny job of making you understand. Basically, they bet against all the companies enabling Americans to take out bad mortgages.
The comedy is a madcap rundown of their efforts leading up to the crisis. Among the big name actors in the cast, Ryan Gosling plays a slick trader. He also narrates, helping viewers to follow the gambles and counter-gambles under way.
What makes “The Big Short” interesting, if haunting, is that you end up rooting for these soothsayers of the meltdown. They have a better sense than most of the looming disaster, and for much of the film, they come across as rogues making a noble attack on the system.
When Mark Baum, an indignant hedge fund manager played by Steve Carrell, meets two Florida men peddling risky mortgages, it’s they — not Baum and company — who come across as the archetypical frat boy financiers.
You might recognize the type from films such as “The Wolf of Wall Street,” or even “American Psycho,” in which Christian Bale plays an investment banker who listens to Phil Collins and moonlights as a serial killer.
This film is ultimately more complicated than either of those.
Bale is also here, as an awkward ex-neurologist who plays the drums and runs his own hedge fund. He’s the first of several eccentrics to spot the clouds gathering on the horizon — or in the spreadsheets, as it were.
Others realize what’s happening after finding neighborhoods full of foreclosed homes and interviewing those responsible.
When all comes to pass, the collapse is worse than anyone predicted, as seen in numbers and news footage at the end of the film.
And though their hearts are heavy, the rogues still cash in.