Adam McKay is well known for directing comedies, and he didn’t just depart into an easy going action film or fictional drama. He picked up a big stick and took a swing at the mighty banks who drained the economy in 2006 in the Economic crisis. A dollar bill monster that ate up 5 trillion dollars(pensions, 401K, savings, bonds), took away 6 million homes and 8 million jobs. The Big Short(adapted from Michael Lewis’ novel) details a group of outsiders in the world of finance who notice the impending doom that is setting and set out to take a shot at the banks, government and media who stood by, did nothing and got rich. That is the easiest way to explain this film. Unless you want to know what a CDO is.
It’s a dense adventure. Watching The Big Short is like watching a slow moving heavyweight boxing match. The two large men stalk each other for a few rounds in the ring, throw some jabs, and hug a lot. Suddenly, one throws a deafening left hook and knocks the other man out. That is the way McKay and fellow screenwriter Charles Randolph treat Lewis’ prose. They pepper the audience with hedge fund terminology, stock broker jargon and David Mamet like delivery to make your head spin. At times, you feel like Google search is your best friend while watching this movie. You wonder about a world where it was impossible to pause a film and look stuff up. The Big Short isn’t for everybody. For hundreds of thousands who watch this film, it will anger them and feel like a band aide getting ripped off. For the rest, it’s a day at finance school.
There were wolves and there were sheep in the spring/summer of 2006, and when numbers like the percentage of unemployed going up correlating with thousands of people ending up dead, your attention is perked. When you don’t know who to trust and can’t tell a snake from a shark, the film only picks up speed and gathers you in its storm. It’s not easy to keep up with a film that seems to have sprint on a treadmill as you gathers lost papers behind it.
McKay was smart and cast well liked and good looking actors like Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, John Magaro, and Christian Bale to portray a variety of roles that springs some against type(Carell) and settle others down in their comfort zone(Bale and Gosling). Carell fares the best, playing Mark Baum, one of the minds who saw this jenga stack crumbling from a mile away.
Adapting a different method of speaking and curling himself into a ball of morose rage, Carell really creates something here instead of high stepping through scenes. Gosling’s mad hat ring leader has some nice moments while Bale gets to revert back to wackiness as Michael Burry, a hedge fund CEO who slowly saw everything around him fold up even though he was convinced he saw this happening years in advance. Difficult yet fascinating.
Some get rich, most felt guilty and the others sulk and brood their way through the film’s conclusion. I found it very hard to love The Big Short but it was well done and I tip my hat to McKay in NOT casting Will Ferrell for once and taking on a project that wasn’t easy to spin. I don’t see a ton of Oscar potential in this film and while it’s not brilliant, it will get you thinking and teach you a few things about the collapse you may not have saw on CNN.
Kudos to McKay for including my favorite Led Zeppelin song, When the Levees Breaks, in the end credits in its entirety. Jimmy Page’s lyrics fit inside the threads of this film perfectly.