Film Review: The Big Short (USA, 2015)

You probably already know director Adam McKay from his extensive catalogue of cringe-comedy – Anchorman, Step Brothers, and Talladega Nights, amongst others. The Big Short is the most recent film from McKay, and one that completely redefines the joker perspective that he is often associated with. It’s hilarious, but at its core The Big Short is an intelligent tragedy about the gruelling effects of the 2007 world financial crisis.

The cast alone is set to bring movie-goers flocking to their local theatre – the likes of Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt bring the film to life with immaculate characterisations of four men who foresaw the burst of the housing bubble, years before it happened. Bale is almost unrecognisable as the painfully awkward Michael Burry; Carrell exceeds as the pained and angsty Mark Baum; and Gosling acts as the perfect narrator, offering a slick, witty perspective that even makes economics appealing.

The mode of storytelling has been meticulously investigated; McKay is aware of the monotonous nature of the housing market, finding unique ways to break down the financial mumbo-jumbo and be more palatable to his audiences. For instance, words like “CDO’s”, “credit default swap”, and “tranche” made me lost in the sea of banality, desperately gasping for air. As I began to lose track of what was happening in the film, the action stops so a celebrity – like Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, Selena Gomez playing blackjack, or world famous chef Anthony Bourdain in a kitchen – can explain those little bits of financial jargon to the audience, providing an interactive experience that legitimately makes finance easy to understand.

It’s a bold, but rewarding perspective to take, and one that oozes McKay’s undeniable charm. It’s a real feat to make finance understandable, but it’s even more impressive to make it entertaining. McKay never loses track of his vision – The Big Short not only serves to tell the story of the world financial crisis, but it also reaffirms cinemas role in society – to tell the stories that are too often neglected.

Despite having an attractive banker narrating the story in Gosling, the film deconstructs the notion of the glamorous life of the banker, exposing them for who they really are – fraudulent scumbags (sorry not sorry). As Carrell’s character chats to more and more bankers, the harsh consequences of what has occurred becomes crystal clear – not only is the housing market inevitably going to crash, the bank and government is aware of this, deliberately covering it up in a bid to ensure that the rich stay rich and the poor – well – get royally screwed over.

At the climax of the film we’re presented with what would happen in an ideal world – the fraudulent bankers go to jail, and the innocent lower-class get to keep their houses. But that’s not the way life goes in The Big Short. This dream is demonically destroyed as reality supercedes the audiences hope – the bankers never end up going to jail, they get a bailout, and the cycle continues. McKay presents two alternative realities that really capture how screwed the banking system is, and ultimately how helpless the commonman is. In such a twisted situation, there seems to be only one way to digest it – through the kind of humour that makes you laugh initially, before fading into a defeated sigh.

The Big Short is the first great film of 2016. It encompasses all the things that makes film great. Providing a thought provoking perspective on an event that we all lived, it highlights some of the harsh truths that are too often lost in translation. Paired with a truly unique mode of storytelling and impeccable performances from its huge cast, I’d say it’s a huge contender for an Oscar, if not a few.


The Big Short is released in Australia on 14th January 2016


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