Adam McKay tackles a drastically different subject matter than his usual comedies with The Big Short, an adaptation of the book of the same name that chronicles the events of the housing market collapsing in 2007-2008 and follows those who saw it coming. The film stars Christian Bale as Michael Burry, the man who predicted the bubble bursting, Steve Carell as Mark Baum, a hedge fund manager who comes across it via a misplaced call, and Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennet, a trader who catches wind of Burry’s predictions and jumps on the wagon.
So how does Adam McKay’s venture into a whole new world pan out? Very, very well. The Big Short plays very much like a toned down, down to earth version of The Wolf of Wall Street. There is scandal, corruption, greed, and a whole bunch of characters who you just can’t sympathise with, all you can do is sit back, watch and soak up the incredulous activities of the American banks.
Considering the subject matter and the outcome of the events this was a very difficult film to pull off, but with grainy documentary style visuals, narration from Gosling’s Jared Vennet, and a mature approach to depicting what happened, The Big Short works on many levels. They’ve certainly marketed the film as containing more comedy than it actually has, and the humour contained within is not your typical laugh out load shenanigans, but you can’t help but be amused by what transpired even if it comes from a place of bewilderment. The laughs are dry and usually punctuated by a dose of harsh reality keeping the humour confined to short jabs without going for a massive pay-off. It’s a smart play from a reliable comedy director because at the end of the day, and it’s referenced in the film, every bit of over zealous joy or humour is at the expense of the unsuspecting public.
Forming the spine of the film quite simply are the fantastic performances by an on form ensemble. There are three different character paths in the film, that despite them being entwined in the same events, are separate from one another. The film opens with Michael Burry working out that the housing market is going to collapse, and after this initial introduction we spend the majority of the film with Mark Baum and his team who investigate the facts and figures behind Burry’s revelations. We also get occasional glimpses into the dealings of a young pair of investors whom also take advantage of the situation and are aided by Brad Pitt’s retired banker Ben Rickert. Each person involved does a good job, but Christian Bale easily puts forth one of his best performances, with Carell and Gosling following up closely with great efforts of their own.
Because the topic of the film is the banking sector, and it always contains a whole load of waffle such as terms used, phrases, acronyms and such, it can take a bit of patience to get into, but the end result is worth it. Adam McKay does an interesting job of simplifying these aspects with convenient pauses in the narrative as a number of famous faces explain what CDO stands for (Collateralized Debt Obligations…), amongst other confusing jargon. It’s a fresh unique way of tackling such obstacles, but it works.
Overall The Big Short is a smart film with great performances, and you’ll experience the multitude of emotions that can be associated with such events from people on both sides of the coin. You’ll chuckle at blunt responses to the spiralling events whilst despairing at the the complete and utter lack of action in preventing such a financial and emotional catastrophe. It’s a film most certainly worth your time, and although it doesn’t depict the events in any controversial way, the topic itself warrants your attention.