The Big Short: Film Review
Cast: Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell
Director: Adam McKay
It seems like the housing crisis and crash is Hollywood's topic du jour.
With the searing 99 Homes not far behind in the cinematic window, the director of Anchorman brings us the true story of what happened when four outsiders predicted the housing bubble bursting in the mid-2000s and used it to their advantage and to expose the banks' stupidity.
The first to see the flaw is Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a Mastodon loving, bare-footed analyst who works for Scion Capital; but his plan to bet against the banks provides a few ripples thanks to a wrong number call to Steve Carell's Mark Baum. His group begin to make some enquiries and start to see Burry's idea has some legs and decide to buy in as well.
Based on The Big Short: Inside The Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis, Adam McKay's film isn't afraid to engross you in the technical babble and the small print of the credit default swaps that precipitated the downfall.
It's also not afraid to realise that it's quite a dry and serious subject and so has its director use various conventions to shatter through the tedium. Chief among these is Ryan Gosling's character Jared Vennett whose breaking of the fourth wall invites an audience in and plays to the film's cocking a snook MO at the stuffiness of its material. Equally, when the story's about to get to some crucially excruciating techno-babble, McKay isn't afraid to cut away to the likes of Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie in a bubble-bath to provide the necessary explanations. It's a clever narrative touch that veers on being a little too smart early on and borders on treating its subject with irreverence, but McKay is fully aware that these moves ensure an audience pays attention to an ongoing issue that's still a problem.
Of the main cast, it's really only Carell as Mark Baum (who's based on Steve Eisman) who feels like they have an emotional connection for you to latch on to. Troubled by the suicide of his brother, and wrapped tighter than a coil in his anger and arrogance, Baum is the only one who feels like a real character and the only one to express an unease at the implications of their benefiting from the banks.
It's a fascinating edge that could have done with a little more exploration, given that the others are essentially anti-heroes who are truly more one dimensional cut-outs populating the picture.
There's an irony in the ever-so-slightly-overlong The Big Short over the way these guys rorted the system that was up for exposure and there are lessons to be learned, but perhaps the biggest message from this almost flashy stylish docu-drama is how much Adam McKay's underplayed his directorial hand. His execution of this film and its ensemble cast will ensure the message of concern over the banks and the housing bubble will get through to the masses - even if it occasionally teeters into didactic but well-needed territory.