The Big Short is the hard-to-believe true story about four outsiders in the world of finance who picked up on the inevitable credit and housing collapse during the mid-2000s, and exploited the failing system to get one over on the banks.
As I walked out of my screening of The Big Short, I was left with only one sentiment: the world is full of greedy jackasses – and that’s putting it lightly.
If the movie does one thing right it’s that it continually drives home the fact these big banks and financial heavyweights have been playing a monumental game of corruption and getting away with it for years. While the execution of the notion is somewhat heavy-handed and preachy, The Big Short – adapted from the non-fiction book of the same name – still succeeds in slapping the blame right on these fraudulent moneymakers and their paper thin schemes. But is it a story worth making a movie about? Absolutely.
However this isn’t a tale you can simply present as a two hour drama – it’d bore the crap out of you. With all the technical jargon and financial lingo, it’d be easy to get lost and overwhelmed. Thankfully, The Big Short does the smart thing and disguises itself as a witty and biting comedy. That’s why a lot of the praise for this movie has to go to director Adam McKay. When I saw his name attached, I honestly thought somebody had made a mistake. Adam McKay? The guy who made Anchorman? As it turns out, his involvement turns out to be essential to the film’s success.
It’s absolutely clear McKay understands that we, quite simply, don’t understand the financial game. Truthfully, I’m still unsure what a CDO really is (something to do with Jenga?) or what goes on over in Wall Street, but through stylistic choices such as fourth wall-breaking and inspired celebrity cameos, the movie explains the facts in such a way that even the most uninitiated (like myself) can follow what is going on and still be entertained.
But McKay couldn’t do it all on his lonesome, he also required the right actors to drive home his vision – and what an ensemble cast he’s assembled. Christian Bale and Steve Carell get the most screen-time, followed by Ryan Gosling and finally Brad Pitt, all of whom bring their A-game. Bale proves once again that he is truly a chameleonic actor, playing a socially awkward math genius at the forefront of the bursting housing bubble prediction. He imbues the character with such energy, charisma and likability that when he does discover the impending crisis, you’re fully behind him kicking the banker’s in the teeth.
Carell seems to be channeling an incarnation of his character from The US Office, but with a volatile anger problem and an inability to keep his mouth shut – a personality trait that gets most of the film’s big laughs. Gosling and Pitt have admittedly less to do but they both do more than fine jobs as the capitalist douchebag who’s sticking it to the system and an ex-trader with a mistrust of everything.
However, there are some drawbacks. Like I said before, The Big Short is a little ham-handed in its execution. At times you’re left wondering if some of these people really could be that greedy and clueless. I’m not doubting they were, but it’s laid on thick on more than one occasion. The same can be said about the cinematography which seems a little gimmicky and clunky. While I understand what McKay was going for with a fly-on-the-wall documentary type of vibe, it just comes across as a little forced.
That’s not enough to temper my overall enjoyment. By the time The Big Short was over, I felt a little bit stupid that I’d never thought to pay more of an interest in what is going on with the world economy – especially since the movie ends on such a somber tone – and that’s exactly how it wants you to feel.
Movie rating: (4 / 5)