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‘The Big Short’ is actually pretty funny

"The Big Short," based on the Michael Lewis novel about the housing and credit bubble that led to the 2008 financial crisis — and the few who saw it coming — came out in limited release over the weekend. It's a hard subject to illustrate. Even Michael Lewis, writing for Vanity Fair, said, "One problem I distinctly did NOT worry about when I wrote 'The Big Short' was how to write it so that it would become a movie. Who'd make a movie about credit-default swaps?" The answer to that question is even more intriguing than the question. It's Adam McKay, who is best known for his comedic collaborations with Will Ferrell including films like "Anchorman" and the web site "Funny or Die." Is it possible to make the housing crisis hilarious? Do people even want to watch a movie about the crisis – funny or not? Here's what former hedge-fund trader Turney Duff had to say.

The Big Short movie
Source: The Big Short

My friends and I got to the theater 40 minutes before the film started and we were about 40th in line. By the time the doors opened, there were at least another 80 people behind us.

There was a definite buzz and anticipation for "The Big Short" and I have to say — I wasn't disappointed.

"The Big Short" was four intertwining stories about investors who made massive bets against the housing market and banking system that led up to the financial crash of 2008. Yeah, we all know how that movie ended. But the film artistically captured the essence of how difficult and painful it can be while waiting to be right.

If I had to sum up the film in one word: Conviction.

In the world of Wall Street, being early is the same thing as being wrong. And as a trader, you hear that expression all of the time because timing is everything in the markets. Over my 15 years on the Street I saw countless people puke out of their position because they couldn't take the pain any longer. And of course right after someone usually pukes, the trade ideas starts to work.

Christian Bale instantly pulls you in as Michael Burry, the eccentric neurologist-turned hedge-fund manager who likes to walk around barefoot and play the air drums in his California office. Occasionally he also likes to play with his glass eye. He's the one who figures out that the housing market will crash, but it's just a matter of time.


Also along for the ride is Mark Baum (Steve Carell) a hedge-fund manager (based on real-life Steve Eisman) who meets with a fast-talking trader named Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who convinces him they can make a fortune betting against the banks' mortgage bonds. And finally a retired trader Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), who helps two up-and-coming investors navigate the forthcoming collapse.

It's the kind of film where, if you hate Wall Street going into it, you'll hate it even more. Or if you are anti-Michael Lewis and you think he gives the finance profession a bad name — you'll dislike him even more. So if you enter with any predisposition it'll only reinforce your current stance.

It's not a prequel or a sequel, but you could call it an equal to HBO's feature film "Too Big to Fail." It's set in the same time period, same subject matter, but with dramatically different results. The two films watched back to back would make for an interesting experience.


The performances are so good, that both Steve Carell and Christian Bale have been nominated for Golden Globe Awards for "Best Actor in a Comedy" and McCay and Charles Randolph, who co-wrote the movie, were nominated for "Best Screenplay."

An added bonus to the film is that it's actually really funny. There were several instances when the audience laughed in unison.

At one point, Vennett (Gosling) says, "Tell me the difference between stupid and illegal and I'll have my wife's brother arrested."

In another scene, Vennett says to Baum (Carell) over the phone: "God this is intimate. I feel like I'm financially inside of you or something."

"Okay…" Baum replies with a wince.

In another scene, Vinny Daniel (Jeremy Strong) says as they arrive in Las Vegas for a mortgage convention, "It looks like someone hit a piñata and out fell a bunch of white guys who aren't very good at golf."

"This is who we're betting against," says Baum (Carell).

And the filmmakers creatively handled esoteric jargon to make it light and enjoyable. There were moments when you felt like you might be watching a hip-hop video instead of a movie.

There are cameos by Margot Robbie (from "The Wolf of Wall Street"), chef Anthony Bourdain and pop singer Selena Gomez explaining complex financial terms.

"The Big Short" is definitely worth a two-hour investment of your time. It's sharp, funny and, at times, informational.


Commentary by Turney Duff, a former trader at the hedge fund Galleon Group. Duff chronicled the spectacular rise and fall of his career on Wall Street in the book, "The Buy Side." He's also a consultant on the upcoming Showtime show, "Billions," starring Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti. Follow him on Twitter @turneyduff.