The very idea of Adam McKay, director of Anchorman and Step Brothers, making a film about the financial crisis in the mid-2000s brought on by the uncontrolled build-up of the housing market, is one that left me scratching my head. Centred around such a serious subject, I just couldn’t see what McKay would bring to the table.
Well, I was totally wrong to judge McKay before seeing The Big Short because he does one hell of a job with this film. Feeling almost like a docu-drama at times, The Big Short is informative while packing a small yet effective emotional punch thanks to a few great performances. I left the cinema feeling both anger at how greed and ignorance let the collapse happen, and fear at how easily it seemed that it could happen again.
After discovering that the housing market was extremely unstable in 2005, Michael Burry (Christian Bale) found a way to bet against it so that profits could be made from its inevitable collapse. The trouble was that none of the banks that Burry took his proposal to believed him and, thinking the market was safe, happily accepted his money.
Burry’s actions attract the attention of trader, Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who soon realises that Burry was right and decides to make some money out of it too. Bennett’s dealings lead to other interested parties, including Mark Baum (Steve Carell), a hedge fund manager, and retired banker, Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), who helps two inexperienced investors make a profit from the situation.
Now, I’m no expert in economics or the housing market and even after seeing The Big Short, I still can’t claim to be. This film uses a lot of terminology that could lead to the audience getting lost but Adam McKay addresses this issue rather brilliantly with some cutaway sequences that take us away from proceedings to explain a word or phrase that people may not understand.
It would be easy to have one of the main cast do this however, McKay was thinking a little bit more outside the box. There are three scenes, each containing a celebrity cameo; Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, Anthony Bourdain in his kitchen and finally, Richard Thaler and Selena Gomez playing a spot of Blackjack. I didn’t think these would work at all but they genuinely did, though Margot Robbie in a bubble bath was the one where I was listening least.
What impressed me most about The Big Short was just how entertaining it was. McKay, who co-wrote the film with Charles Randolph, brings his comedic elements to proceedings yet it’s the surprisingly good drama, including a pretty hard-hitting finale that made me really appreciate just how good McKay’s work is here. It’s totally out of his comfort zone and he knocks it out of the park.
The Big Short also boasts a cast that contains four top leading men who all bring their respective qualities to the film. Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt are all very good in the film but for me, Bale and Carell are the stand-outs. Bale really sells the eccentricity of Burry and Carell, who impressed me massively in Foxcatcher, captures the humanity of Baum well, a rare quality for a banker.
The Big Short is a bit of a dark horse going into the awards season and, while I don’t see it winning any of the big awards, it sure is a film that deserves your attention. Both the energy of McKay’s filmmaking and the performances keep the film ticking over at the perfect pace.