Directed by: Adam McKay (Anchorman)
Written by: Adam McKay, Charles Randolph (Love & Other Drugs)
Starring: Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Christian Bale (The Dark Knight), Ryan Gosling (Drive), Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds)
Release Date: December 11, 2015
As far as cynicism goes, The Big Short is a masterpiece. If you have any ounce of faith, or money, still invested in the American system, director Adam McKay firmly advises that you pull it out immediately.
The Big Short follows the handful of men who foresaw the downfall of the U.S. economy in 2008. Unlike typical Hollywood heroes, they did not warn the government nor attempt to prevent the collapse in any way. They merely bet that it would happen, watched it happen, and then reaped the rewards.
I could try to explain how they saw it coming and what it is exactly that came, but the movie does enough of that. In fact, the whole film is riddled with explanation of what CDOs are and why the mortgage loans at the time sucked, which sounds daunting and unpleasant, but surprisingly isn’t.
This is in part due to the peculiar sensibilities McKay acquired from directing non-dramatic features, like Anchorman and Step Brothers. McKay has no desire to cater to critics who require choices they consider “cinematic” enough. Instead, he directs The Big Short as if it were one of his comedies. He tells the story as it is but points out irony where it exists, even chucking in odd moments when he feels it serves the story. Did it work every time? Not as well as it could’ve. But it’s refreshing to see a Hollywood director try things so seemingly laughable in a dramatic piece.
The other part that makes this film so engaging is obviously its fantasy of a cast. It doesn’t just flaunt four major movie stars. It wields four extremely gifted actors, each with a wholly unique skillset and career. The Big Short employs Steve Carell — the funnyman turned Oscar-nominee, Christian Bale — the method, transformation guru, Ryan Gosling — the overrated hunk with underrated skills, and of course Brad Pitt — the pinnacle of talent meets starpower. Though not much interaction takes place between the four, with the exception of Carell and Gosling, the mere chance to see them share screen time makes you feel giddy. But once you move past the fantasy, you witness the sheer brilliance of the cast that McKay has assembled.
Carell, in particular, delivers a performance embedded with so many dispositions — rage, pain, hope, disappointment — that it is difficult at any point in the movie to know the psychological position of his character. Is he angry at the system, depressed about his brother’s suicide, contemplating ways to repair what is broken, or on the brink of giving up on everything for good? It’s never just one of these, which is what prevents this picture from becoming a New York Times article or a Michael Moore documentary.
Beyond the talent involved, however, at the core of The Big Short is the ongoing tale of how the U.S. was and continues to be a static haven for corruption and fraud. Mckay presents to his audience the information, the history, and the heartbreak felt by millions who lost their homes and jobs, challenging them to sit on their rightful anger and do nothing about it, as repeatedly has been the case. Go ahead and get screwed, Mckay says. Trust the system which time and time again has forced you to pay for its own greedy and failured endeavors; then watch it happen again. Unfortunately, rather than taking this to heart, the audience will likely obey.
The Big Short is as cynical as cynicism gets, convicting those at the top for their corruption and those at the bottom for their complacency.
“The Big Short approaches a serious, complicated subject with an impressive attention to detail — and manages to deliver a well-acted, scathingly funny indictment of its real-life villains in the bargain.”