The Big Short
Adam McKay’s The Big Short chronicles the cause of the worldwide recession that we all remember from only a few years ago.
The recent financial crisis is something that we all know about but who can actually claim they know what actually caused it? I know I can’t but I’ve always been told that the bankers brought it on and then taxpayers bailed them out. The lack of understanding people have is the subject of this film and the aim is to educate people through the lens of these characters who are based on the real people involved.
It’s a complicated subject and the film doesn’t gloss over that at all. So many financial terms are thrown at the audience at rapid speed that it’ll confuse anyone without some pretty advanced knowledge in the subject. This is where the narrator Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) comes in. He serves as the guide for the audience through all the jargon and complicated business speak to digest it into something that anyone is able to understand. The film accomplishes this in some really clever ways such as breaking the fourth wall to explain things and some really surprising celebrity cameos drilling down into the detail to deliver an example that’s a bit easier to digest.
For this film, the stylistic choices are everything as it’s really trying to tell a complex story that isn’t all that easy for people to understand. Lots of familiar imagery and fast cuts are used to make sure that the audience attention is kept as well as throwing in jokes here and there to help with that. Vennett embodies the concept of an unreliable narrator but is completely honest about it right from the start. The way he acts around others is hugely larger than life and his agenda to make lots of money is always clear. He isn’t taking advantage of the inevitable crash for altruistic means and neither is anyone else involved. Gosling does a good job of balancing the shady characteristics with a level of charm that makes the character likable enough.
Christian Bale plays Michael Burry, a man who was savvy enough to see the crash coming years before it did. He’s socially awkward introvert who feels more comfortable dealing with numbers than people but his intelligence is off the charts and he knows that he’s right even if others doubt him. Bale really throws himself into the role as he usually does and never manages to be anything less than believable. So much of his personality comes out through his performance which is needed as the script doesn’t really give much insight into him as a person. There’s small reveals here and there but broadly his function is to be the guy who knew the answer and stands by it.
Steve Carell’s Mark Baum is someone who does his own research into the situation after hearing about it and arrives at the same conclusion. He’s a really forceful presence in the film who doesn’t sugarcoat it when he thinks someone is wrong or stupid. Some insight is given into his character through his refusal to deal with a personal tragedy that he refuses to talk about. Carell is always excellent in this role and really comes across as a man who should be listened to beyond the fact that he’s the loudest guy in the room. His desire to make money seems to be founded in some sense of reality that creeps in through the film.
Another group made up of Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock), Charlie Gellar (John Magaro) and Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) are a lot of fun as well. Shipley and Gellar are new to the finance game and are hungry to succeed where Rickert levels them out with his experience and exceptional paranoia. They’re a fun group with a solid dynamic that is always engaging to watch. Brad Pitt’s effortless swagger sometimes feels a bit over the top but that’s just Brad Pitt for you these days.
The whole thing plays out like some kind of dark comedy with very little balance to the arguments made. Each of the characters the film focuses on are the ones who know things that are being ignored by the world so the bankers and everyone else on the other side are portrayed as if they are idiots. When not being shown as stupid they are shown as morally bankrupt and thoughtless. I like that it’s a film that isn’t afraid to take a stance on an issue and delivers it in such a way that has a very comedic quality to it. It doesn’t make light of the fact that lots of people lost everything the had earned and their homes but lets the inability of those accountable to take the blame be the joke.
With such a broad issue being the focus the film sometimes loses sight of the characters and doesn’t really develop them enough. We see enough of them in the context of what they’re doing but beyond some brief backstory and a little bit of insight here and there they are a little thin. Terrific performances from the entire cast elevate the characters with mannerisms and other identifiable traits so it’s not as noticeable as it otherwise could be.
An excellent darkly comic telling of the main cause of the recent worldwide recession that affected almost everyone.
It’s a complicated subject that the film doesn’t gloss over at all. The use of a narrator who breaks the fourth wall to explain the complicated financial terminology with easy examples and celebrity cameos is a really clever way to cut through all of the jargon.
In a lot of ways the stylistic choices are everything. Familiar imagery and fast cuts are used to hold the attention as well as jokes thrown in here and there to help with that. The narrator is an unreliable one but this is pointed out early on. He was in the situation to make money just as many were so the audience is clued in on his lack of altruism.
The cast all do great jobs with their characters. Ryan Gosling manages to give a character who could be unlikable enough humanity to prevent that. Steve Carell is the loudest man in the room but also shown to be moral and right most of the time. Christian Bale fully embodies his socially awkward character and Brad Pitt has a good dynamic with Finn Wittrock and John Magaro.
It is played out as a dark comedy with little balance to the arguments made. The film follows people who are right and everyone else is shown to be either stupid or morally bankrupt and thoughtless. I appreciate that the film takes a stance on the issue and delivers it with a comedic edge. It doesn’t make light of all that people lost but lets the inability of those accountable to take the blame be the joke.
The broad issue means that the film loses sight of the characters sometimes. We see enough in the context of what they’re doing but beyond some brief insight they are a little thin. This is elevated by excellent performances so it isn’t too much of an issue.