As ridiculous and shocking as the worldwide bankers that led to the World Financial Crisis, The Big Short is a kinetic and unconventional approach to the dense subject matter and heavy themes of the infamous 2008 Wall Street crash.
The Big Short (2015) is directed and written by Adam McKay and stars an ensemble cast with the likes of Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt. Its a drama-comedy that follows M.D Michael Burry (Christian Bale) when he discovers the apocalyptic stock market crash three years prior to its implosion. His discovery and subsequent gambling on the crash leads to other financiers such as Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and two young upstarters Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) jumping on the cash bandwagon to inevitably see the corrupt fraudulent system collapse under its greed.
The story has real shock value. While The Big Short may be classified as a comedy (and don’t get me wrong it has plenty of funny moments) the most impressive part of the story is how well it captures the pure shock and ridiculous greed of the big banks that created the crisis. I left the cinema struggling to comprehend the sheer stupidity that would let so many bankers make so much money off without considering the consequences. There are moments of levity sewn into McKay’s screenplay that relaxes the shock of the plot, but as the film progresses those moments become less and less prominent to make way for the sheer outrage that The Big Short should rightfully create. I have no interest in finance and knew nothing about the financial crisis when it hit, but after seeing this movie I’d be happy to wave a sign around in front of a bank at 2 in the morning. Its outrageous.
The film itself unravels through three different narratives – Bale’s initial discovery, Carell jumping on the bandwagon and the two upstarters following suit. The execution of these three stories can often be unusual or disjointed – while they reference each other, none of the three groups actually meet and it does sometimes feel like McKay’s screenplay is in too many places at once. That being said, considering the complexity of the narrative and subject material itself, it is a feat worthy of Gordon Gecko himself that it doesn’t fall apart. Better than that – it actually succeeds in making the dense pile of loans, bonds, C.D.Os and fraud actually understandable. While at times it does feel McKay may have bitten off more than be can write, it never feels too overwhelming or convoluted and that is an impressive feat.
Speaking of McKay, his direction is a vibrant kinetic one that succeeds in some places and falls flat in others. Many scenes have a really light and lively tone that enhances the humour of the movie. Not to mention plenty of his scenes and sequences are cut fast. Its a visual smorgasbord for much of Short which is effective but sometimes overwhelming. He also implements a number of unusual techniques that would never happen in a conventional true story drama. Cutaways, fourth wall breaks, cameos, random diagrams! All the weird stuff. And for the most part, they all work. It all gels with the lively tone McKay has achieved and makes a slightly funny film into a full-blown comedy. I thought I never would have heard anyone ever utter the line “Now Margot Robbie in a bubble bath will explain Morgtage bonds”. At least, never thought I’d hear it in a movie…
The one element of McKay’s direction that I don’t think gels with the film is the camera-work. its shaky and often out of focus to the point the film almost feels like a found-footage movie. And not only is it a difficult technique to adjust to, its distracting – and for a film about numbers (that you really need to pay attention in) that’s very bad. Its almost like the direction is in direct conflict with the script. And in the end it detracts from both.
Now that I can finally get to it, the cast is impressive. Bale as usual astounds me with how much of a method actor he is. His character is self-righteous, socially awkward and a genius and Bale fits the character perfectly, which is insane considering he was Batman just 3 years ago. The man loses himself into his roles so much that I fear for his sanity. Steve Carell also delivers an impressively dramatic performance. Considering he’s the only true comedian in the cast, its odd that he has one of the more serious roles, but its a testament to his recent drama turn (like Jim Carrey did, bless him) that he pulls off the seriousness and shock so well. To briefly rattle off the other cast, Ryan Gosling was great as the slightly slimy opportunist, Brad Pitt doesn’t have a big role but still does well, and the two upstarters (Wittrock and Magaro) also make an impression. Overall, the entire ensemble lives up to McKay’s ambitious screenplay wonderfully.
The Big Short is the complete opposite film you would expect when you hear the premise ‘about the financial crisis’ – its lively, kinetic and funny with a big dollop of palpable drama thrown in. Couple this with an outstanding ensemble cast and the shock-value of the story itself, Short navigates well around its few missteps to deliver an excellent film.
General Audiences: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended