The Big Short (2015)
Director: Adam McKay
Writers: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay, Michael Lewis (book)
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Jamie Shipley, Charlie Geller
The Big Short manages to make economics interesting and does so by bringing more to the table than just a top-ticket cast.
The Big Short is a complicated film. So it should be. It is the chronicling of the 2008 housing market collapse, subject matter that immediately shouts bore-fest rather than blockbuster. This presents an immediate challenge when creating a film based on complicated economics; keep the complexity of the story intact, while managing to keep viewers interested and engaged.
McKay and his team walk this tightrope exquisitely and stylishly. The Big Short is aware of its own complexity, the writers recognising that the complex story line isn’t an obstacle, but a tool - a tool which helps the audience grasp how baffling the system was, and how barely anyone saw it coming. Fortunately, The Big Short also recognises where the story becomes bogged down in technical economic jargon, and rather than ‘dumbing it down’ it actively seeks to educate the viewer, often breaking the fourth wall, characters addressing the audience directly, explaining their motives and actions. If that’s not enough, dotted through the story are several cameo appearances - most notably from Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain - who provide classroom explanations of some of the more baffling elements of the story. Confusion is expected, but The Big Short is reassuring and offers a non-condescending hand to hold as it leads the viewer into a world of economics so complicated that even those individuals on which the film is based were unsure of what was happening. Few films are this self-aware and it’s this self-awareness, this ability to point out its own absurdity (“If it seems almost too perfect, trust me, this happened.”), that makes the film enjoyable and, often, funny.
In the midst of the film’s comedic undertone, the writers do well not to lose focus of the tale being told. Its tongue-in-cheek feel is blended perfectly with the tragedy underlying the story, and the film climaxes in a rather fitting focus on those who were affected most by the market collapse; the average person. Even going as far as facetiously detailing the lack of consequences which befell those responsible for the collapse - which cost 6 million US citizens their homes - the film seems to be giving an unsubtle but tasteful middle finger to all those Wall Street fat cats.
The film’s intellectually expensive subject matter is paid for by a stellar cast, all utterly convincing in their roles, particularly Carell as the cynical Mark Baum. A far cry away from Evan Almighty (2007) or the 40 Year Old Virgin (2005), Carell gets to flex his muscles and demonstrate his prowess as an actor, reaching some extraordinary emotional heights. Bale appears in his usual top form, his cerebral Michael Burry being equally compelling to watch, while Gosling is perfect as our cocksure and casually blasé guide through the years preceding the market collapse. While they, along with Pitt, Shipley and Geller, are the ‘heroes’ of this story, none do anything to avert a crisis which they know is fast approaching - in fact they seek to profit off of it - and each of the central cast convey their character’s personal struggle with this knowledge expertly and impressively.
All these elements have equated in what can only be described as a brilliant film. Funny yet disquieting. Bewildering yet engrossing. It is a testament to how any story is worth listening to if it is told well, and The Big Short tells its story very well indeed.
In one line: The Big Short needs your full attention, but if you can spare it you will be rewarded with a fascinating and surprisingly fun film.