An intensive, jargon-filled drama that does the absolute best job at explaining one of the most deliberately complicated financial disasters in recent memory.
In 2008 America, and later Europe, was hit by one of the worst financial recessions in decades. But in 2001 a handful of people saw it coming, and saw the fraudulent activity from the banks that would topple the economy.
Director Adam McKay (Anchorman) has never really been a director I liked; he has made a lot of what I consider brainless Will Ferrell comedies, but The Big Short proves that he is a capable drama director and can make complicated ideas more consumable. There’s nothing more complex than the myriad of layers that bankers pulled over consumers eyes, and in fact McKay’s light-hearted filmography and previous work with Steve Carell helps in spades.
The film’s directed and shot almost guerrilla style, a pseudo-documentary; with often soft focus, wandering camerawork and actors breaking narrative to speak directly to the audience with the characters more inner thoughts. Things not in focus, in this High Definition age, might be irksome to many but it is quickly acknowledged as deliberate.
The Big Short’s selling point is to explain away the biggest issue with the recession of 2008, and for the most part it succeeds. Anyone of the age thirty and up was likely affected or at least witnessed the effects of the banks, and so McKay had a job to do in telling an important factual piece with complicated jargon that the public aren’t supposed to understand! The film says as much!
McKay puts the most critically important ambiguities under the microscope at key moments to keep audiences clear on proceedings. “Here is Margot Robbie in a bubble bath to explain,” for example. Not only explaining in layman’s terms, but also easing the intense furrowed brows of its audience.
While comedy is very present and extremely welcome in this instance, our characters and the reality of the situation is heavy and grim. Audiences will shake their heads in dismay at the utter idiocy and ignorance of people reaping benefits without any effort and without seeing the horrific consequences. Steve Carell and Christian Bale carry the emotional weight of the story from two very different angles, and both are excellent performances.
Tension mounts beautifully throughout the second act of the film as those in the know, our protagonists, butt heads with ignorant fat cats yet look to score themselves during the fallout yet risk losing everything in the process. Does anyone benefit? Can anyone benefit from the financial destruction of most of the first world countries?
Despite its comic moments, the film ultimately leaves you feeling angry and dispassionate about the human race and modern society in general. We all know how this true story ends. The film is as good and consumable as it could have possibly been.
If you are interested to see it, just make sure you are awake and ready to listen!
Additional Marshmallows: The following trailer does the film a disservice: it suggests that all of our protagonists are working together, but in fact the film follows three separate companies attempting to capitalise or survive the coming disaster.