The Big Short, 2015.
Directed by Adam McKay.
Starring Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, Finn Wittrock, Max Greenfield, Melissa Leo, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Tracy Letts, John Magaro, Jeremy Strong, Marissa Tomei, Karen Gillan, Stanley Wong, Byron Mann, Margot Robbie, and Selena Gomez.
Four denizens of the world of high-finance predict the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000’s, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight.
Adam McKay at the Oscars you say? The same Adam McKay who helped introduce the world to Ron Burgundy, Mark Wahlberg being funny and the infamous and hilarious vocal styling of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly’s delightfully crude rendition of Boats and Hoes? One and the same. The rule usually states that comedians (actors, writers or directors) just don’t usually win the big prize, bar a few exceptions (Robin Williams for example). But what if said comedy purveyor made a “comedy” that was both delightfully funny and rich in its detail that it would have Academy members taking a second glance? Welcome to The Big Short.
The first emotion that will course through your body and your veins after watching The Big Short is anger: pure unadulterated anger, making you see red anger that such events, namely the financial crisis and subsequent global meltdown back in the mid- 2000’s, were allowed to happen. But such anger with dissipate once you remember just how funny the film is, and how cleverly McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph turned tragedy into comedy. That’s not to discount the millions who lost everything back during the crisis, far from it, but what makes The Big Short so fascinating, and indeed thoughtful, is how the films turns a circus of money, greed and power into, well, a real-life circus, an absurd, demonstrably demented circus that is both funny and insightful, despite its impenetrable inner workings.
Impenetrable is the best way to describe just what happened those few short years ago, and how greedy, carnivorous men made themselves masters of the universe. Both McKay and Randolph and fully aware that many if not all viewers of the film will have pounding, splitting headaches with the volume of information that is thrown at you, but it’s in their ingenuity, and indeed the comedy, that makes the film truly soar. Breaking the fourth wall just as Scorsese did in The Wolf of Wall Street, many of the film’s principal cast, with the majority landing on the feet of Ryan Gosling (like DiCaprio, who wouldn’t listen to Gosling talk finances) address the audience with both numbers and addressing the absurdities unfolding, as well as brilliantly utilising cameos from some famous faces (Wolf’s Margot Robbie is hilariously utilised in the early stages) to further enhance the point..
Indeed, even in the filmmaking McKay has excelled himself: throwing everything including the cat, the dog and the kitchen sink at the screen, his camera never stops moving, beautifully mirroring the deranged craziness that is unfolding on-screen, stopping just short of standing nude outside Wall Street in his pursuit to get people’s attention. Jump cutting from past to present, flashback to flash-forward, it’s energised to within an inch of its life but all the while continues to be both entertaining and educational.
And with such clarity of ideas McKay was able to assemble such a rich cast of actors. Christian Bale doesn’t really do funny, but as Michael Burry he comes as close as he may ever do with echoes of both Patrick Bateman (the ultimate Wall Street figure) and American Hustle’s overly confident Irving; Carell continues his ‘serious’ run with another impeccable performance (think Michael Scott without the whimsy). Gosling too flourishes as the suave Jared Vennett, while Brad Pitt is as assured as ever in another producer/extended cameo. Even down to the supporting cast (Rafe Spall, Tracey Letts, Marisa Tomei), everyone brings an extra level of class to the film, fully embracing the director’s frenetic energy.
The Big Short without its faults mind, with the slightly excessive runtime causing a few sags here and there, with Pitt’s financial fixer subplot feeling somewhat perfunctory against the other strands of the story. In addition, and with McKay and Randolph’s best intentions, it was always going to be impossible to truly sell the film and it’s dense, baffling intricacies, and at times you will be completely lost. But if confusing is always this effortlessly entertaining, show me where to invest.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Scott J. Davis is Senior Staff Writer at Flickering Myth, and co-host and editor of The Flickering Myth Review Podcast. Follow him on Twitter.