Playful and fourth wall breaking, The Big Short is big, bold, and far from boring.
Another adaptation of one of Michael Lewis’ non-fiction works, The Big Short tests the limits of watching a movie without having prior knowledge of its focus. The fact that it is more complex than either of its predecessors, both The Blind Side and Moneyball, is incontrovertible. Even from the perspective of a viewer with no knowledge of American Football, or baseball, it’s possible to grapple enough information to get by, but with The Big Short, it’s a whole other ball game.
The story centres on the workings of four outsiders who notice something that no one else does: the economy is going to collapse. In 2005, the housing market is booming, and mortgages are being given away to anyone and everyone who can’t afford it. Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is the reclusive and taciturn hedge fund manager who first predicts the crisis two years before it happens and decides to bet against the housing market. His actions are discovered by Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who brings in the vengeful Mark Baum (Steve Carell). Along with his team, they in turn invest in the collapse of the market. Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) is a Wall Street veteran who is pulled back into the evil world of banking by two young and energetic investors, played perfectly by John Magaro and Finn Wittrock, who also come across Burry’s scheme.
As Baum’s team dig deeper into the underworld of banking, it is not the money that terrifies them, but the people that are supposedly in charge of it. Indeed, I would caution the viewer not to focus on understanding the intricacies of banking, but understanding the characters and the people behind this chaos. This movie is not, after all, about money; it’s about people. But the film makes it’s quite clear that these people will not be held accountable; there is a certain anonymity that comes from the fact that everyone is equally guilty.
Despite the whole cast more than pulling their weight, Carell’s performance slightly overshadows the less emotionally fuelled characters. One heartfelt scene shared between Baum and his wife (Marisa Tomei), in which he reveals the guilt he feels for his brother’s recent suicide, is particularly poignant, surrounded by the shoes and clothes of a materialistic age. It proves once again that Steve Carell is both a hilarious comedian and an incredibly powerful actor.
This film doesn’t shy away from social comment on the consumerism of modern society either; we buy products and we buy people. Various celebrities feed explanations of business terms to us throughout. Margo Robbie in a bath, who wouldn’t pay attention to that? Although it doesn’t escape the fact that such explanations are needed, the act of hiding them in plain sight transfers onus onto us, the consumers, who will fickly watch a valued celebrity giving us useless information only needed for the duration of the movie, and call it entertainment.
Although a change of scene for Adam McKay, the director of Anchorman and Step Brothers, a sense of humour still underpins the film, in part thanks to the reunion of Carell and Gosling, whose familiar back and forth brings back memories of their rapport in Crazy, Stupid, Love. Indeed, the arrogant sarcasm provided by Gosling’s Vennett and the grumpy outspoken babble of Baum are reminiscent of their former roles, and the film is all the better for it. Their familiarity as comic sparring partners helps propel this movie forward by making light of serious business. In fact, each of the actors holds their own in a very busy film, from small roles provided by the likes of Max Greenfield and Rafe Spall to stars like Pitt and Bale.
Busy is an apt description; McKay compensates for lack of blockbuster action provided by the plot to action through the fast (or just confusing?) dialogue, and editing. Asides from various characters throughout the film, very much reminiscent of those in Hustle, were a nice touch, revealing the guilt in everyone. Three deep and meaningful quotes grace the screen with their presence, along with images, videos from the media, popular culture and a soundtrack so cluttered you almost think that the songs have been put there by mistake. To be honest, so much was thrown at this movie that it is nearly impossible to account for it all. It becomes a collaborative and interactive piece for modern day consumers.
Was all of this a ploy to keep the audience engaged with quite an uneventful but complex plot? If it was, it certainly worked. But if it wasn’t, it was a clever and fitting description and commentary of modern day life. Potentially too long but never dragging, The Big Short is an exaggerated imitation of the modern age that could be classed as messy, but only because our own lives are.
The Big Short (2015), directed by Adam McKay, is distributed in the UK by Paramount Pictures. Certificate 15.