“I found something really interesting.” - Michael Burry
That's one of the opening lines in the first official trailer for the upcoming movie The Big Short, and I think it precisely describes the movie itself: really interesting. Now, if you haven’t heard of The Big Short, then I’m glad you stopped by to read this article, because when you’re finished with it, you'll be looking forward to this movie as much as I am.
The Big Short is based on the true story of four men who were considered outsiders to the banking and financial industries. These guys accurately predicted an imminent collapse in the housing market and boldly decided to bet against the big banks—a move that could have either ruined them or made them a sizable fortune. They took it upon themselves to shine a light on one of the most extensive cases of fraud in American history, unearthing proof that the global banks and financial institutions built their wealth upon greed and deceit, a strategy that is still working to spell their downfall. The Big Short is setting itself up to be the most politically relevant hit of 2015 with an incredible story and a stellar cast of characters including:
- Brad Pitt as Ben Rickert – A trader for a private financial investment corporation who is looking for the chance to make it big.
- Steve Carell as Mark Baum – An investment manager who has grown sick and tired of the banking institutions walking all over the people they were supposed to help.
- Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennett – A Deutsche Bank trader who joined the group after realizing that he could profit from the banks' oversight.
- Christian Bale as Dr. Michael Burry – A hedge fund manager who was the first to predict the shocking crisis.
Needless to say, with a cast like this, there are at least four reasons to be excited about The Big Short. One standout element in particular is Christian Bale's performance as Michael Burry. As one of the most influential investors of the last 15 years, Christian Bale's portrayal is absolutely stellar and already gaining well-deserved buzz for a second Oscar nomination. This year's Best Supporting Actor category is already shaping up to be one to watch, and Bale’s in illustrious company with likely nominations for Sylvester Stallone (Creed), Tom Hardy (The Revenant) and Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies). With such incredible competition at the Oscars, it's going to be a battle for the statue, but I believe that looking at some of the past winners will present a trend that could feed into this year's race. That trend is something that we see in all of Bale's performances—yet it is truly on display in The Big Short. His take on Michael Burry is undoubtedly deserving of an Oscar because he is able to invoke something deeper, something that is nearly intangible: a total and complete personification of his character.
Now, winning an Oscar has never been a sure thing, as some actors will likely tell you.
But the ones who end up taking home the gold have, more often than not, brought their characters to life in a truly unforgettable way—just look at a few of the past winners of supporting actor over the last 10 years:
Javier Bardem in 'No Country for Old Men' (2008)
Portraying a hitman with a total lack of remorse in the neo-Western Coen Brothers movie No Country for Old Men won Javier Bardem an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Bardem truly captured the essence of the psychopathic killer, and it was scarily apparent in his performance.
Bardem's performance as Anton in No Country for Old Men was all about full immersion into the character: he changed his hair style (which he hated) and truly was able to personify the ruthlessness of the villain. Similarly, Christian Bale's role in The Big Short was truly a personification of Michael Burry, Bale was described as being 'borderline creepy' with how well he mirrored the charm and character of his real-life inspiration.
Heath Ledger in 'The Dark Knight' (2009)
The late Heath Ledger earned his posthumous Oscar by bringing to life one of the most iconic supervillains in pop culture history in the only way he knew how: by fully delving into the psyche of the character. That deranged character, The Joker, will forever be immortalized well beyond comic books thanks to this performance.
Heath Ledger's Joker is about as deep of a personification as you can get, considering he truly captured the essence of the psychosis that goes hand-in-hand with the character himself. Bale is able to capture the innermost qualities of Michael Burry and he portrays him exquisitely through his ability to basically become him.
Jared Leto in 'Dallas Buyers Club' (2014)
Method actor Jared Leto also brought home an Oscar for his indescribable performance as a transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club. He went to incredible lengths to infuse sympathy, heart, and understated complexity to Rayon, changing aspects of his body to embrace the character that he was portraying. Christian Bale embraced his chance to portray Michael Burry in The Big Short by focusing his efforts on understanding Michael's actions and why he thinks the way that he does.
Christian Bale in 'The Fighter' (2011)
Christian Bale is no stranger to earning an Oscar either, as he won Best Supporting Actor for his performance as a crack-addicted, washed up welterweight fighter who stops at nothing to train his brother in The Fighter. Bale's performance was incredible, and he received due praise for his commitment to the role. He was able to show us a character with such incredible depth, and that's what made his performance award-winning.
Another indisputably stirring performance from Christian Bale
From what I've seen, Bale is on a similar path with his upcoming performance as a complex, maverick hedge fund manager living with Asperger's syndrome. Bale spent a great deal of time meeting with Michael Burry so that he could adequately understand his real-life counterpart—and it shows. Bale took their time together to heart, focusing on the unique characteristics that break from stereotypes about people with Asperger's. Bale had this to say about Michael:
"He is one of the most sincere people I have ever met. And at the same time as having such an incredible mind, he feels immensely, for the information he gathers, for the situation of the markets..."
Perhaps most importantly, Bale was able to capture Burry's exact reaction when he discovered the housing market was going to crash. He was able to highlight the difficulty that Burry had with social interaction without reducing him to a caricature. Burry always felt as though he was on the outside of every social group, to the point where he even felt like an outsider among outsiders. Bale exquisitely captures this essence through the eyes of a man who just wanted to be heard after getting pushed aside because nobody believed he could have discovered something that nobody else saw.
In addition to learning about the individual person, Bale delved into the tumultuous political climate and came out with a better understanding of what would drive a man to scream that something was inherently wrong with the system that was holding up the entire global economy.
I can't even begin to explain to you how much anticipation I have for The Big Short, it's truly a breathtaking glimpse into an incredibly recent moment that continues to affect so many people in this country. One thing's for sure: the film is going to get people talking, and that could very well benefit Christian Bale come Oscar season.