One the most brilliantly infuriating films in years.
Let’s get this out there—Adam McKay, the director of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy, should be nominated for an Oscar come February. Sorry, did I say an Oscar? I meant two Oscars, one for writing and one for directing The Big Short, adapted from the book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis. The film follows the true story of a few key players in the housing credit bubble collapse of 2007, specifically, a few that saw the crash coming and invested in the collapse. Yes indeed, there are no heroes here. Just anti-heroes and a whole lot of a**hole douchebag jerk faces that f*cked all of us over! Whew, ok, now that I got that off my chest, I should mention that this is one of the best films of the year. The incredibly witty script keeps the otherwise confusing subject matter entertaining and comprehensive. The Big Short treats its story with flair and casual grace, rather than overloading it with unnecessary drama or uppity intellectuality. Basically, the true events speak for themselves. The filmmakers just supplied the superb cast, tight script, and brilliant tongue-in-cheek storytelling devices to frame it.
For reasons I’m not too interested in learning (legal?), a few of the characters’ names have been changed for the film version of the story. But pay no mind, because what you need to know and find out very quickly is that each character is a new or experienced member of high finance. Christian Bale is fantastic as Michael Burry (one of the very few unchanged names), a hedge fund manager who discovers the imminent collapse of the housing market. It’s great to see Bale in a seriocomic role. The only other time he played outside of the mostly dramatic spectrum was in American Hustle, and here he absolutely nails the idiosyncrasies of Burry, plus a bit of entertaining embellishments. The other outstanding performer is Steve Carell, whose role as money manager Mark Baum (real life name – Steve Eisman) is like the polar opposite of his role as John Eleuthère du Pont in 2014’s Foxcatcher. Baum is “happy when unhappy” and his tirades about the banks and high finance mirror our own thoughts, but Carell delivers them in such a way that it conveys deep aggravation and conflict with his own participation in the world of finance. With the gifted supporting players Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, The Big Short boasts a dream cast that delivers true to their names. It’s fun to think about all the connections that may have aided in this cast taking shape: Brad Pitt acted in Moneyball which was written by Mark Lewis who also wrote The Big Short and directed by Bennett Miller who also directed Foxcatcher which starred Steve Carrell who acted alongside Ryan Gosling (and Marisa Tomei) in Crazy Stupid Love. The point is, the chemistry is impeccable.
That chemistry can thank the spotless script by Adam McKay. Sure, the plot turns are somewhat expected (assuming one is at all familiar with the housing bubble collapse) and the intricacies of the financial transactions are very hard to follow. Luckily for us, however, McKay breaks the fourth wall consistently to amazing effect. I won’t go into specifics since they’re some of the more clever additions to the film’s uniqueness. The result is an Ocean’s Eleven meets The Wolf of Wall Street parable– and if you liked both of those (or one, or neither), you’ll likely like The Big Short.
But of course there’s the part where the credits roll and you look to the person sitting beside you and you’re eyes meet as if to say, “f-ck, that sucks.” And indeed, the events that take place in the film and that are still taking place today are highly unfortunate and unfair. As critics, audience members, and film lovers, we must appreciate the work that went into crafting such a great film. On the other hand, we know that this film isn’t enough of a “call to action” to break the cycle, or even make a dent. We’ll leave The Big Short feeling entertained, impressed, probably a bit smarter, and definitely a sh*t ton more f*cking bitter. Ugh.
The Big Short opens in select theaters Dec. 11th, and widely on Dec. 23rd.