The Big Short – a review

Seriously, no one knows how to play this game?

Although being marketed as a ‘comedy’ (more on that later), The Big Short really presents a striking attack on American led capitalism: the unsustainable, out of control money machine that gobbles up the hard earned cash of its general population, for the few who know how to burn up the profits as multi-million dollar bonuses, only to excrete debt and loss out the other end. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it. Where do we sign up? Oh, we already did.

So, let’s meet our four big name players…

Christian Bale delivers a deeply nuanced characterisation, especially considering he takes a co-starring role, as Dr Mike Burry, an almost savant numbers genius who is first to predict the housing market crash that would ultimately prove to be the card that toppled the global financial house.

Ryan Gosling serves as our narrator, comic relief and plot linchpin. A large role, effortlessly filled with his usual charisma. It’s his Jared Vennett that interacts with Steve Carell‘s Mark Baum, the apparent moral compass of this tale of greed and lies. This is where things become sticky, however, as all of these guys are traders, in one way or another, and they all profit considerably from the outcome, despite the fact that the story is set up as if they’re our heroes taking on the might of the banking world. They’re not. They’re just profiting by having predicted the crash before anyone else.

Carell is on, what’s now becoming, typically strong form; laying down a commanding performance as the ever conflicted Baum, constantly clapping his hand over his face and rolling his eyes in astonishment at every new revelation of just how far this rabbit hole of deceit goes. He still profits from it though, which only diminishes any sense of sympathy or relation you feel towards him.

Brad Pitt completes our stellar roster and, despite minimal screen time, plays his part dutifully and with the craft now afforded by his considerable years in the game. Notable that this is yet another film produced under his ‘Plan B’ label in which he also stars.

Pitt’s on-screen companions, John Magaro and Finn Wittrock, do their best to steal every scene they’re in but, even if up against too stiff an opposition to pull it off, still make attention worthy turns. Definitely ones to watch.

All this acting talent is brought together by Michael Lewis‘ story, based on real events, which is ingeniously imagined for the big screen by writer-director Adam McKay and screenwriting partner Charles Randolph. McKay is better known for his long standing comedy writing relationship with Will Ferrell, although he clearly displays a flair for the more dramatic here. McKay’s comedic background may go some way to explaining why this film is being labelled, in some quarters, as a comedy. Just because a film has comedic elements or comedic performances within it, which this one certainly does, it doesn’t necessarily make that film a ‘comedy’.

Just look at The Martian and Matt Damon picking up Golden Globes (for that film) in the comedy category. Yes, the character Damon plays and indeed his performance do have comedic elements to them but does that make the film a comedy? The Martian is a Sci-Fi film with a wise-ass central character. The Big Short is a witty, well-written and brilliantly acted dramatic thriller about corruption, deceit and ultimately theft. To lump it alongside crass simplistic fare such as yet another Melissa McCarthy film (Spy) seems wholly inconsistent and detracts from the genuine merits it offers as a piece of social commentary. Watch The Big Short to the very end, the closing credits, and try saying it’s a comedy. I laughed once during The Exorcist, does that make it a comedy?

OK, back to the film at hand…

The Big Short brilliantly utilises its narrative structure, bound tightly together by an inspired alchemy of ensemble performance, to simultaneously explain to and carry the audience through the economic crisis of the late 2000s. Flashed imagery of contemporary pop cultural references, quotations appearing as text on screen, amazingly self-referential cameos and highly kinetic editing all combine to form an aesthetic lattice through which the story is viewed and allowed to flourish with an added texture and portent.

This is original, innovative and, most importantly, big film making from a major studio which attacks American capitalism and lays the blame of the economic crisis resoundingly at its door. And it does all this with laughs and drama, entertaining its audience all the way. A movie that’s good and has something to say? Who knew they still made ’em like that?!

Although, taking nothing away from the above, this is still a commercial property and will make money. So, doesn’t that mean it’s still a part of the very system it’s attacking…

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