Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling
Genre: Drama/ Comedy
In 2005 four individuals from different parts of the world of high finance bet big money against the housing market. Though those around them fail to see their logic, as the world gets ever nearer to a financial crisis these four men are set to make a huge profit from their pessimistic prediction that will affect the lives of millions.
Adam McKay is of course better known for his lowest common-denominator mainstream comedies with Will Ferrell, and so The Big Short does signal somewhat of a surprising change of direction. However it is always refreshing to see directors trying to be a bit different and sometimes comedy can be used to put across deeply serious points more effectively than if they were presented with a straight face (if they are done well of course). Well, though The Big Short perhaps lacks the ultimate impact that was perhaps intended down to being a little too pleased with itself, it is a very enjoyable and relevant film that is above everything else entertaining and watchable.
Structurally The Big Short is a strange beast with it telling its story in an unconventional way with it initially introducing us to its main characters in a way that could easily be considered lacklustre, and the whole narrative consists of many characters randomly breaking the fourth wall and even more random scenes of exposition as it tries to explain to us complex terminology from the world of finance (Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, Selena Gomez at a casino etc). It is here that any film would tread a fine line, and the fact is that the casual filmgoer does not know these terms and would need an explanation, and how The Big Short shows this adds self-awareness and humour and it does just about gets away with it (though there is an inescapable element of smugness). However it is still not as accessible, engaging or quite frankly not as good as 2011’s criminally underseen Margin Call.
However it is best to judge The Big Short on its own merits and the comic approach does ultimately make it a very watchable and enjoyable film, but also does actually serve to make the true story it is telling slightly more unnerving. Many news stories of the last decade have made those that work in the finance industry out to be the bad guys and the fact that the characters in the film are gambling on and eventually profiteering from an economic crash in which many people lost their jobs and their homes is genuinely unnerving. The film’s casual depiction of this which mirrors its characters seemingly casual approach to this is extremely effective and actually a welcome antidote to the more lecture-like approaches that films tend to adopt.
What The Big Short does most effectively is suddenly adjust its tone to portray its internal message and ideas; we often find ourselves laughing at the film’s comic moments and therefore with its characters and liking them, but then suddenly we learn the potential external impact of what they are doing. This works as an extremely effective method of showing us that our economies, and therefore livelihoods are in the hands of a few people and the films depictions of this makes the casual approach of its characters all the more unnerving.
Though at first The Big Short is hard work due to the fact it suddenly introduces many characters and many locations in which there are many chats using financial jargon, it does settle down and though it could certainly be shorter, is on the whole very entertaining.
Though there was always a risk that their respective hairstyles would be the most memorable thing about their performances, the cast are on top form; Christian Bale’s Michael Burry is the first one to predict the whole thing and he adds his usual unique intensity to his character’s unique and socially awkward personality. Ryan Gosling is suitably sleazy and smug as his character, but does seem to be enjoying himself a little too much. While Steve Carell’s character has the most depth and complex character journey, and he excels at his portrayal of this which does serve to enhance the film’s emotional engagement with his character.
Despite a fair amount of substance and a uniquely effective depiction of its themes, there is no escaping that The Big Short does feel a little too pleased with itself at times and the overlong running time proves that the editing could have been a little more rigorous. Ultimately the fact it does sometimes have a little too much style for its own good does at times dilute the effectiveness of the themes and messages at its core, but The Big Short does still serve to be a film that amuses and entertains while having an effective and serious message contained within its centre.
Though it could have done with a little more narrative discipline, The Big Short is a highly enjoyable but also very important film that certainly gets its message across.