Three diverse, loosely connected groups in the financial industry each cotton on to the 2008 housing crisis before it happens and attempt to turn a profit from it, The Big Short. Largely based on a true story.
This is Adam McKay’s first foray into more serious territory. He holds our hands all the way through the complex subject matter but it feels smart and gets everyone on the same page without being too patronising. It helps that he rarely gets his characters to clumsily explain what’s going on to each other (although it does stray from time to time); at one point he even cuts to Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, as herself, who handily provides details of what a CDO is. It’s tongue in cheek and probably won’t hold up well on second viewings, but it’s original and catches the audience by surprise.
There are three central groups that are involved. Christian Bale plays Michael Burry, a socially awkward hedge fund manager who is the first person to spot the signs of the crisis. He overcooks the role a little, but he’s funny and memorable. Finn Wittrock and John Magaro lead up a small garage-based firm - they don’t have much money but they have talent and spunk etc… They are helped by Brad Pitt, who seems to be somewhat on auto-pilot as Ben Rickert, a former Wall Street banker with access to the big guns.
Steve Carell plays Mark Baum, a tightly wound manager of a hedge fund owned by Morgan Stanley. He is turned onto the deal by Ryan Gosling playing Jared Vennett, a trader. It’s an all-star cast, supported by some big names like Marisa Tomei and Melissa Leo. Everyone pulls their weight and it was probably no mean feat for McKay to keep it all together.
It’s a shame that he carelessly tries to force a back story onto Carell’s character where it really isn’t needed. Baum’s brother committed suicide before the events took place and it’s a driving force for his character. However in the film it feels like an after thought, it’s just something that gets drowned out by all the noise.
The direction is snappy, albeit irritating at times. We keep seeing shots of iPods and generic consumerists, but it’s clumsy and disjointed. There’s some really cool ideas at work here, especially in the editing, but they definitely get done to death.
The Big Short is largely successful at taking a really complicated, boring story and giving it mass appeal. The protagonists are on ‘our’ side, which is a clever way to get us to understand the idiocy at play in the system. As a result, you come out feeling wound up and ready to let loose on the world.
A thoroughly entertaining and well-made debut from McKay.