Director: Adam McKay
Cast: Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Finn Wittrock, John Magaro
Plot: A group of seperate bankers realise that the flawless housing market is actually on the brink of economic collapse and try to work out how to profit from this.
I never would have expected Adam McKay, creator of the nonsense Anchorman films to drop this film on audiences, a insightful satire into the 2008 economic crash, targeting how the American banks had every opportunity in the world to save American houses, employment and savings, but were either to greedy or too stupid to see the signs. However, The Big Short is by far the best movie to ever broach the subject, as well as being a worthwhile watch for anyone looking for some smart, to-the-point comedy.
Its dark subject matter is elevated by some great actors in some cracking roles. First up is Ryan Gosling playing a parody of Ryan Gosling. He acts as our narrator, a character willing to break the fourth wall to address the audience, almost as if Guy Ritchie was making a movie about Wall Street. Gosling probably has the easiest job of all of the big names on show here, but that shouldn’t rob anything from the character. If anything, his charismatic, egotistical and power-hungry stereotype is a perfect concoction for what we imagine these banker figures to look like. Next up is Christian Bale, as the social outcast who first picks up on the fact that the housing market could be a few years for self-imploding. Bale benefits very well from this movie, even if his character is strangely on the sidelines of the story, never really getting the chance to bounce off any of the other big actors on display here. Christian Bale, after Batman, John Connor and uber-Moses, is the kind of actor you give the big action heroes. He has the muscle mass, the charisma and the fighting skills to tick all the right boxes, but we will very rarely see him a role like this anytime soon. One glass-eye, bare-foot and clothed in lazy day t-shirts, Bale’s tired banker is summarised as a character world’s away from Bale’s other roles in a single monologue. However, look past his obsession with heavy metal and awkward giggle, and he is a very clever man. He realises that the American public are using dodgy loans to pay their mortgages, loans which are likely to be pulled out from under their feet around 2008, and begins trying to ‘short’ the market. Shorting is essentially betting against and this is where the film hits its major problem. The heroes of this story are pretty much lesser villains. While they are picking out the problems in the economic system, they also profit from its destruction, meaning that as the film carries out towards its heart-breaking finale, it is hard to escape the fact that the people we are meant to be supporting are also architects of its doom. McKay paints them as con artists, tricking the greedy bankers (who the film manages to paint as the true villains, heartlessly hiding their losses until it is too late), into signing their lives away, but we would have preferred them to investigative journalists, trying to uncover the truth for the public, rather than realising the upcoming economic apocalypse and burying their head in the sand. Alas, this is a true story and these things rarely work out in a cinematic fashion. Thankfully the film addresses this near the end and stops it from becoming an awkward footnote.
Out of all the performances, it is Steve Carrell who truly amazes. Combining this and Foxcatcher, Carrell has truly made a name for himself when it comes to heavy dramatic performances. We could argue he feels more at home here than he did with Foxcatcher. For one, he is reunited with one of the directors who first harnessed his true talents, McKay, and for another thing, his performance here switches from comedy to drama naturally, meaning that Carrell has access to more natural abilities here. Carrell plays Baum, the second banker to stumble across the housing crisis waiting to unravel. Before he even discovers this, we know him as a casually angry character, Baum always shouting to someone down the phone, but in a way that suggests he simply has forgotten how to not sound angry, rather than genuinely being bullish. An amusing scene sees him charge head-first into an anger management meeting and dive right into his story, cutting across everyone else, a hilarious introduction to his character. Out of everyone, he is the most oddball of the bankers, a tightly-wound cynic whose main objective as a banker is to assume that everyone is out ot lie to him. As he realises that the banks are hiding this disaster waiting to happen, he sees this as his chance to finally get one over on the system he has been fighting all of these years. The joy in the performance is to see the fight exhaust him, driving him to a quiet figure questioning his morality and the point of fighting this greedy, corporate machine. It is a fine performance and a suggestion that Carrell is, again, an actor worthy of awards.
The Big Short starts off as a laugh out loud comedy. And it is very funny, satirising the banks for being so ignorant to the impending crisis just around the corner. Boardroom meetings are montaged together using Hip Hop music, suggesting that this figures are so wrapped up in their own world that they see themselves as rock stars, living the high life up in Vegas and strip clubs. This is where McKay is most natural, using his own zany comedy to lighten things up. Cameos from Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie are interspersed to explain banking terms to us clueless audience members and there are little gems to be found in the narrative, like Christian Bale pausing a triumphant deal to ‘borrow’ a mug from a banking firm. However, then the movie changes tact. It is an interesting change, almost as if the banker’s stupidity just stops being funny. As jobs begin depleting and poor citizens of America are being kicked out of their homes, the bankers carry on their horrendously ignorant ways. There is no more room for jokes, because, rightly so, how can we laugh at this horrible misuse of taxpayers money? Perhaps this is where the Big Short will lose a lot of its audiences, because a) the tone change is jarring and b) this is where the two hour running time begins to get a little heavy, but it is the part of the film which really makes the Big Short worthwhile. It is an uncomfortable watch, still a little too close to home for the laziness of the banks to not offend, but an important life lesson to spread, especially in the ending credits, which reveals that a few banks have started mixing up the terminology as an excuse to start the same cons over again.
Final Verdict: A smart look at the banks and the ignorance that led to the 2008 economic crisis, which is both funny and honest.