Directed by: Adam McKay
Screenplay by: Adam McKay, Charles Randolph, based on the book by Michael Lewis
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Bratt Pitt
Summary: Financial analysts in New York City identify risks and fraudulent activity in the housing market and use this knowledge to predict the financial crisis of 2008.
“It’s like someone hit a piñata full of white guys who suck at golf.”
Finance and economics are so boring; someone starts throwing around terms like “subprime loans” or “collateralized debt obligations” and I am completely checked out of the conversation (yes, even if it’s coming from Ryan Gosling), but The Big Short made it understandable and entertaining. I really enjoyed this movie. It’s really a nice blend of comedy and drama, and – assuming the film is factually accurate – I actually learned a lot as well. The fourth wall is broken often to help explain how the financial systems were forming into the perfect storm of fiscal ruin.
Essentially, The Big Short is about greed and corruption and has a dark sense of humor, so it is difficult not to compare it to The Wolf of Wall Street. I love Scorcese. And I love DiCaprio. But The Wolf of Wall Street was about 15% too indulgent in its own bullshit; there was something kind of masturbatory about it, but in a non-ironic way. The Big Short is like the smart-man’s Wolf of Wall Street. Similar concepts, but The Big Short is almost an hour shorter and has a lot more substance to it.
The casting for this movie was perfect, there was some high quality acting on screen and every new actor on the screen was keeping up with the rest of the cast. The best performances came from Christian Bale and Steve Carell, who actually share zero screen time. Christian Bale’s character is the highly eccentric genius who first predicts the tragic outcomes of these high-risk mortgages. His storyline is almost completely isolated from the rest of the cast; they never share any screen time. Critics made a fuss about his performance, and after the first time I saw this movie I didn’t really understand why. On repeated viewing, it’s easier to see that he is bringing a lot to this character, often without having much of a screen partner to bounce off of. He made a fascinating character out of a role that could have been written out of the script completely.
Steve Carell is also excellent; I think he might be one of the most underrated working actors at the moment and a lot of that probably has to do with the judgment that comedic acting is easier than dramatic acting. His character is brash and abrasive, he is an angry, troubled man whose disgust and outrage at the corrupt financial system seems to be seeping from his pores.
Much of this story is focused on about a dozen white men having a huge moral objection to what they are seeing. They are all outraged at the men who are choosing to conduct business in a way that takes advantage of America’s already disenfranchised citizens. They are all outraged at the economic system that allows this to happen. However…all of them use their advanced knowledge to play the system in the interest of gaining money for themselves. There really is no virtuous hero of this story. The banks are monsters. The brokers are monsters. These men are less monstrous, but hardly the pillar of ethical certainty.
Outside of the story and cast, there were some impressive technical elements. The cinematography is was very good, but what really truly makes The Big Short great is the editing. This film is so well cut together. Pop culture references from the time period are cut into transitional scenes; the different stories are cut together in a way that makes them feel entirely as one, not fragmented or distant. The script is already moving at a quick pace and the editing is keeping up, if not jumping ahead a half beat. This is definitely the best edited movie I’ve seen since Whiplash.
Verdict: A-; this film has a few minor flaws, a few plot points that did’t fully pay off, but hardly made a negative impact on the film as a whole. This is a great film with a great cast and a great director – I’m excited to see what Adam McKay does next.
Best Supporting Actor – Christian Bale
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Film Editing
I would love to see The Big Short win for Best Film Editing (Hank Corwin won Best Edited Feature in a Comedy or Musical at the ACE Awards, so that is a good sign). I would have preferred to see Steve Carell nominated over Christian Bale, but I’m pretty sure his amount of screen time only made him eligible for the lead actor category, which is highly competitive this year (and last year…and the year before that…and the year before that…)
Best Adapted Screenplay