Today I watched Adam McKay’s The Big Short (2015)
The Big Short is a film that attempts to be a comedy about the 2008 financial crisis. It’s story begins in 2005 when Michael Burry, a hedge fund manager with Asperger’s Syndrome, discovers certain instabilities in the housing market and decides to make a financial bet against it. Various other economically inclined parties, mostly ones with a cynical or pessimistic view of the banks, come across Burry’s findings through various means. A pair of young prospective hedge fund managers, an eccentric bond salesman, and a group of older and more seasoned (read cynical) hedge fund managers all decide to make similar bets to Burry.
So how does this movie manage to make this tale of the dismal science interesting, let alone funny? Adam McKay employs a lot of modern pop humour techniques, most notably the cutaway gag. It uses this technique, popularized by the likes of Family Guy, not only for humourous and dramatic juxtaposition, but also to deliver the info dumps necessary to understand the economics. The film will just cut to Margot Robbie in a a bubble bath or Anthony Bourdain making fish to have them explain the more esoteric economics. This combines with stylish editing and a frequent breaking of the fourth wall to make the film feel satisfyingly simple and easy to understand and get into.
Another powerful element of the film is it’s star studded cast, the two who stood out the most to me being Christian Bale as Michael Burry, and Steve Carell as Mark Baum, an overly righteous hedge fund manager with a grudge against the banks. Bale delivers a powerful performance in terms of how he portrays someone with Asperger’s, the film doesn’t really shy away from some of his less glamorous habits and makes him a very real feeling character. Carell also does a great job by holding up much of the film’s emotional end as a man struggling with the loss of his son and general disillusionment. Carell’s character is the one who gets to point out that the gamble they are making is a bet that the American economy will collapse and that means that a lot of people are losing their homes and livelihoods.
This film does not shy away from the drama and fallout that this situation had in real life, which has thee effect of making me feel a little cynical after watching it. While it is an incredibly entertaining comedy, it is bittersweet because of the very real nature of the story and the tragedy caused by rampant corruption. The great cast, style, and script all bring you along for an entertaining ride before the rug gets pulled out and the abysmal truth is laid bare. But that makes it a really interesting film and certainly one of a very high caliber. 5/5