A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
Directed By: Adam McKay
Produced By: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Arnon Milchan, Brad Pitt
Written By: Adam McKay, Charles Randolph (Screenplay), Michael Lewis (Novel)
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Politics, economics, immorality and money, money, money!
Adam McKay’s The Big Short combines all these subjects into a two-hour series of three separate but connected stories with an all star cast against the backdrop of the then-imminent financial crash in 2008. The few who foresaw the bubble bursting, those who felt the full weight of the colossal dip and those who cottoned on and earn themselves a little bonus were all pivotal players in one of America’s most significant historical events.
Directed by Adam Mackay and starring Christian Bale, Steve Carrel, Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling amongst others, The Big Short could be seen as a partner to Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes, a film also from 2015 that focuses on the capitalisation of the wealthy in light of the bubble bursting. Where one tells the street level story of civilians with lives, families and homes, The Big Short takes place within the Wall Street offices, behind the desks and amid the endless stressful, heated phone calls.
Although diametrically opposed on a structural level, both films tell the same story, The Big Short, while not as gripping and enveloping as 99 Homes, is a solid enough picture with some impressive dialogue and stellar onscreen chemistry to match.
When dealing with economics and financial mumbo jumbo, it’s often difficult to make it cinematic without “dumbing things down” for an audience. Although many will be able to get a rough understanding of proceedings, it’s always safer to refine the jargon and shape it so that a wide audience can follow without scratching their heads.
What The Big Short decides to do is actually somewhat of a risk. Characters often break the fourth wall and explain directly to the audience what is happening, simplifying terminology and using symbolic examples to help us through.
To some, this is a stylistic choice that allows for an easy flowing film that doesn’t rely on you to reference your textbook on Wall Street terminology every two minutes. To others, it could be seen as disrespectful. A director must trust their audience to follow up to a certain level in any film.
When it comes to financial events, it’s not like it hasn’t been done before, most people will be able loosely follow the film and feel it’s unnecessary to have the characters beat us over the head with information.
An example of The Big Short perhaps going a little but too far is when a naked Margot Robbie explains what a NBS is to the audience from within a bubble bath drinking Champaign. This all seems a bit too familiar. It feels as if director Mackay had recently watched The Wolf of Wall Street and had taken far too much inspiration from Scorsese’s work.
A film predominantly about advocacy and information, The Big Short is rather inspiring in a sense. Even if one is to emerge from the other side without learning anything about the financial market due to the barrage of terminology and mathematics, the fundamental, crucial narrative that McKay explores so well is the fact that outsiders who saw what others did not had the courage and gusto to take the banks head on, stepping away form the majority and sticking their necks out beyond belief.
Some characters may not be desirable in the slightest; in fact their scheme resulted in the general public being affected, which added to the rippling moral dilemmas of the film. Yet unscrupulous as they may be, it’s a dog-eat-dog world in business, and those they were betting against were even worse than them.
McKay’s deviation from Will Ferrell comedies is a refreshing choice. The Big Short is an ambitious picture with a lot to say and inform us on in regards to a significant period in recent history. Attempting to be educational with as little alienation as possible, the stylistic flourishes that mask the direct injection of jargon and information goes too far, leaving the film somewhat scattered and without a consistency.
A suggestion would be to watch 99 Homes, which, in the similar vein as far as the subject matter is concerned, manages to pinpoint the diametrically opposed results of what many believe to be the most impactful crash in modern economic history.
McKay’s inspired comedic biography promises a lot but ultimately falls short of what it could have and should have been.