When America’s banks collapsed a few years ago the world was told a lie. The world was told that nobody, not even the top financial experts, saw it coming. That was only partially true, yes the top financial experts didn’t see it coming, but some men did.
The Big Short tells the story of those men, men the world didn’t listen to. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) ran a small, but successful, financial firm and he saw the crash happening but due to the fact that he didn’t dress the way they did and liked to drum to Metallica in his office nobody really listened. The one person who did listen was Wall Street trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) who then went against the bank who he worked for and decided that this was a way to make money… betting against the bank. A misplaced phone call by him then tipped off Hedge Fund Manager Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) who then convinced Vennett to join him on his crusade against Wall Street.
The chain then kept going as eager young investors Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) found a copy of Baum’s flyer and also decide that can make money off what is happening. Not experienced in making the trades they need to do to do so they rope in retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to help them out.
When director Adam McKay set about making The Big Short he must have wondered whether or not he could pull off this project. McKay had established himself as a comedy director, a great comedy director to be precise… the man who brought us movies such as Anchorman and Step Brothers etc, but still it was ambitious to decide to make a comedy-drama about the collapse of America’s biggest banks. After all the minuet details of how and why the banks collapsed is so technical and boring it would not only go right over the head of the average cinema goer, but also have a strong chance of making them lapse into some kind of a coma if you bothered to explain it properly. Yes The Big Short was an uphill battle all the way but somehow McKay has made this into one of the films of the year.
So how does McKay make this film work so well? The answer is simple. He does what so many filmmakers are scared of doing these days… and that is be creative. To put it into ‘banker speak’ he thought outside the box. Instead of having a series of long explanations of what exactly is happening with all the financial stuff McKay will allow the film’s story to pause for a moment while Margot Robbie (sitting in a bubble bath as herself) explains what is happening or he will cross to a celebrity chef comparing the market to bad fish. It sounds as strange as all hell… but it works and gets the point across in a way that the audience can understand without putting them asleep.
That being said it isn’t creative ‘gimmicks’ like that which make The Big Short work so well. No McKay is aided by a screenplay that is simply one of the best screenplays to surface out of Hollywood for a long, long time. While it expertly reveals a lot of the greed and shame of Wall Street it is also about strong characters and consists of some of the wittiest one-liners you are ever likely to hear. To the credit of the screenplay you actually come to know and love these characters. You feel sorry for Mark Baum and the personal tragedy that he has suffered in his life while you find yourself barracking for the likes of Michael Burry who are putting everything on the line and copping abuse for doing so. Even though so of the characters are quite unlikable, such as Jared Vennett, the screenwriters have been smart enough to get them to deliver the quips that make people laugh in a bid to make them at least a little likable. Yes the unthinkable happens in this film, you actually like bankers.
Of course that brilliant script also allows the actors involved to deliver some of the finest acting performances of the year. Steve Carrell showed us his serious side in Foxcatcher and here he once again revels in what is a demanding but emotional performance. If he takes an Oscar home for this performance he truly deserves it. Likewise Christian Bale who loses all of his Bruce Wayne good looks as he morphs into the hard rocking recluse Michael Burry so well that you forget who you are watching. The other true chameleon here is Brad Pitt who is completely unrecognisable as the bearded off-the-grid former banker Ben Rickert. These three lead an ensemble that makes this film truly memorable.
Sure a film about the banking world might not exactly make you feel like you want to rush out and purchase tickets at the box office, but like Wall Street and The Wolf Of Wall Street before it The Big Short is a ground-breaking film that shows a completely different side to the filmmaking skills of Adam McKay. Creative, original and hard-hitting The Big Short is a film that I’m sure I’ll be revisiting when I put together my Top 10 Movies of 2016 list.
Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt
Running Time: 130 mins
Release Date: 22nd January, 2016