Scott F. Evans
Let’s get this out of the way: The Big Short is not a ‘date’ movie. It is not a crowd pleaser. You cannot allow distractions while watching. You certainly cannot ‘turn off your brain’ and expect to get anything out of this film. It’s a demanding sit that requires a familiarity with recent economic events, and at least rudimentary knowledge of the financial world.
Adam McKay and co-screenwriter Charles Randolph don’t exactly hold your hand as they tell this complicated story, but they don’t leave us in the dark either. The Big Short tells the story of a small group of financial players who predicted the 2007-2010 housing market crash, and got rich by betting against it. As such, the script requires a lot of exposition for those of us that don’t work on the fringes of Wall Street. So if you don’t really understand what credit default swaps or collateral debt obligations mean, don’t worry. McKay’s and Randolph’s witty script will guide you through it.
Instead of trying to simplify the finance-speak, characters break the fourth wall and explain exactly what’s going on at that moment. Surprisingly, this very theatrical gimmick works. And it doesn’t hurt that the script isn’t afraid to be profanely funny while breaking this stuff down into basic layman terms.
McKay, known primarily for broad comedies like Anchorman and Step Brothers, trades in his normal conventional style for a slightly dated quasi-documentary approach. His handheld camera is busy and intrusive. It zooms and pans around scenes so frequently that it is initially asdistracting as some of the lead actors’ wigs. But McKay and company are able to pull you past it as we’re introduced to the characters and the story unfolds.
The Big Short boasts a stellar ensemble cast with Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and co-producer Brad Pitt all putting in solid work. Bale particularly plays against type as Dr. Michael Burry, an eccentric financial analyst who first discovers the impending collapse. The character is full of afflictions (he’s got Asperger’s Syndrome as well as a glass eye) and could have easily turned into a standard comic figure. But Bale keeps it reigned in, turning in a believable (if showy) performance. Carell and Gosling, as money manager Mark Baum and trader Jared Vennett are excellent in roles almost tailor-made for them. Pitt is subdued but convincing as retired capitol investor Ben Rickert.
The Big Short is like The Wolf of Wall Street’s conscious younger cousin. It shows you all of the rampant corruption. But where Wolf wallowed in the excess, Short is sickened by it all. It’s a smart film that’s definitely worth seeing.
But don’t go looking for a breezy time at the movies. Buckle up: it’s going to be an interesting ride.