The Big Short
D: Adam McKay
S: Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt
It sounds like a tall order: Adam McKay, a frequent Will Ferrell collaborator and the goofball force behind Anchorman, taking on what was once considered the economic equivalent of the Apocalypse. But in case you missed it, he delivers in The Big Short.
Adapted from Michael Lewis‘ 2010 non-fiction bestseller, this razor-sharp dramedy revisits the 2008 financial crisis, as seen by the cunning eyes who benefitted from it all. Everything is vividly brought to life onscreen by an exceptional tag-team of a cast and a rapid-fire script by McKay and Charles Randolph.
Grabbing the commentary reins and refusing to let go is trader Jared Vennett, played with obnoxious delight by Ryan Gosling. As the film’s occasional narrator, Vennett doesn’t settle for voiceover. He prefers to break the fourth wall whenever the mood strikes and impose his sleazy rhetorics on the audience. Vennett learns about the fraudulent activities of glass-eyed hedge fund manager Michael Burry, played with reverberating creepiness by Christian Bale. Eccentric Burry trots around his office barefoot and can’t sustain a conversation to save his life. But, it is he who pinpoints the decreasing stability of the U.S. housing market and sees profit opportunity in the impending economic collapse. Vennett rides on the scheme by enlisting the aid of Mark Baum, a FrontPoint manager whose obsessive demeanor conceals a tragic past. That role is exemplified by Steve Carell, who’s raised his acting stakes dramatically since his frightening stint in Foxcatcher. Here, he supplies the moral resonance. In joining Vennett, Baum and his posse (Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, and Jeremy Strong) encounter more Wall Street vultures, thus reaffirming the industry’s deceit. Co-producer Brad Pitt joins the chaos as Brad Rickert, a retired banker who reluctantly helps two young investors (Finn Witrock and John Magaro) seek their share of shady earnings.
Inevitably, the whole thing is a jargon-laden affair. As Vennett laments in one of his narrations, “Wall Street loves to use confusing terms to make you think only they can do what they do. Or even better, for you just to leave them the f*ck alone”. Technical term overload? No problem. Strategically-placed cameos by Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, and Selena Gomez ensure that you won’t need a glossary. It’s this tongue-in-cheek self-awareness, coupled with Hank Corwin’s dynamic editing, that keeps everything adrift. Look out for a montage that intersperses Burry’s deception spree with Ludacris‘ Money Maker music video.
Of course, that doesn’t guarantee a comprehensive grasp on the subject matter once the credits roll. This is a movie after all, not a Wall Street crash course. As a satire, The Big Short excels in being both hilarious and infuriating. It lampoons a dark period in economic history without trivializing its repercussions. It glamorizes the villains without condoning their ghastly deeds. And all in all, it sure is entertaining.