“If it keeps on rainin’, the levee’s goin’ to break” snarls Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant as the end credits roll on Adam McKay’s attack on the big banks, The Big Short. Although Mr. Plant is not referring to the financial crisis of 2008, it’s easy to see the similarities between the two in this smart, witty and occasionally heartfelt film.
The film tells the true story of a group of outsiders who predicted the financial crisis and decided to bet against the housing market (apparently a ridiculous thing to do) eventually turning out huge profits. The first noticeably interesting element of The Big Short is that it continuously, from the first minute in fact, breaks the fourth wall. The audience is directly addressed throughout in an effort to simplify the banking world and its associated jargon. Phrases such as subprime mortgages and Synthetic Collateralized Debt Obligations are playfully explained by big-name stars playing themselves such as Margot Robbie in a bathtub with a glass of champagne, and Selena Gomez at a poker table.
This is arguably the film’s strongest attribute, if you were to be told that a film detailing the financial crisis of 2008, a film that almost takes a documentarian approach at times, would be a hugely popular and entertaining hit, you’d be excused for seeming perplexed. Its subject matter appears boring to most, but its playful tone and the fact that the film almost acts as a looking glass for the common people into the complicated world of high-flying banking, it’s truly a testament to McKay’s direction. This is especially true considering that this is director McKay’s first foray into drama. He has been previously associated with whacky Will Ferrell comedies such as Step Brothers and Anchorman, so getting an Oscar nomination on his first-time round is a huge feat for McKay.
It’s an assured performance from the cast as a whole too; Steve Carell is amusingly and constantly agitated as an idealist who regularly attends anger management classes. Christian Bale is great as the oddball hedge fund manager, Michael Burry, a performance that has earned him a Best Supporting Actor nod at the Oscars. However, it’s Ryan Gosling who steals the show for me, dominating every scene he is as Jared Vennett, the narrator-cum-banker. Jared is somewhere between The Thick of It’s Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), and Glengarry Glen Ross’s Ricky Roma (Alec Baldwin) as he swears at his assistant and uses ridiculous analogies to get his points across, Gosling surprisingly flourishes in a film that is dominated by bigger names.
The film meticulously exposes the seedy, slimy world of banking as it plays out like a damning condemnation of the banking lifestyle. Its bankers are portrayed as arrogant morons who are completely and totally to blame for the 2008 crisis. Many of these portrayals are certainly amusing to watch, and we laugh, with the characters, at the stupidity of some of the bankers.
However, The Big Short does have a rather heartfelt and upsetting undertone running throughout it. Whilst the bankers do lose to our underdog heroes, the film eventually asks, who are the real losers here? It is not the bankers who merely got a slap on the wrists for their unforgivable actions, it is the millions of hard-working people who lost their jobs, their homes, and even their families.
Drama |USA, 2016 | 15 | Paramount Pictures | 22nd January 2016 (UK) |Dir.Adam McKay | Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo, Rafe Spall, John Marago