After the burst of the housing bubble led to a global financial crisis in 2007-2008, the last person you would expect to make a film about it would be Adam McKay, the goofball director known for his work on The Other Guys and the Anchorman movies. However, the comedy filmmaker has applied his mischievous directorial style to The Big Short, a biographical drama based on Michael Lewis’ book of the same name, based around four men who saw the collapse happening before anyone else. Boasting one of the most star-studded casts in years including Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt, a stocks-and-shares saga is sold as an energetic jest-fest.
From the opening sequence, the meta tone is established as Deutsch Bank douchebag Jared Vennett (Gosling) breaks the fourth wall to introduce us, the audience, to the modern world of banking, with big bonuses and even bigger egos. In a plot wholly concerned with money, the balance is just right between being informative and hilarious, and clever cutaways to celebrity cameos are implemented to combine the two, explaining financial terms and theories in a way that demands our attention. Strands of the story don’t often cross over and each of the poster stars have their own motives for shorting the market that was apparently ‘safe as houses’. None of the characters, expect maybe retired banker Ben Rickett (Pitt), have redeeming qualities but in delivering the serious material wrapped in humour, we can laugh with them all the way to the bank.
Aside from the snappy screenplay and playful direction, McKay draws top-notch turns from all involved. Christian Bale arguably has the trickiest task, playing the nonconformist hedge fund manager Michael Burry, who has a glass eye and likes his music loud. The performance is complex but isn’t over complicated by Bale who has earned an Oscar nod for his efforts. Gone is the moody, near mute Gosling from his latest movies. This time, he never shuts up and brings charisma as well as excellent comic timing to the part that I never knew he had in his locker. Carell is also strong, and his character Mark Baum has the most fleshed out back-story and a fuller arc as his hatred and infuriation with the system grows throughout. After a detour to dark drama last year with Foxcatcher, he is back to his cranky, comedic best.
You’re likely to leave the cinema feeling frustrated at the ignorance and naivety of the big-wigs of the banking industry, and how they haven’t and probably never will learn from their colossal mistakes that cost so many their homes and their jobs. To achieve this substance and lasting effect within the comedy genre is no mean feat, and is a masterstroke from Adam McKay. It is entertaining and enlightening, chock full of witty performances, and does a much better job at providing clarity to an important, recent event than most have managed. The Big Short is definitely worth investing in, with your time and your money.
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