Director Adam McKay is known for “Anchorman” and “The Other Guys”, but the end credits of the latter showed statistics relating to the federal bailout, income inequality, and Bernie Madoff. Due to his forays into comedy, “The Big Short” is unexpected, but it’s great that he directed a movie on a topic that he’s so invested in.
His interest in telling a story of how the economy went under turned into an aggressive, comedic cautionary tale of how the banks took advantage of unsuspecting people and how their negligence led to a collapse. These four groups of outsiders saw it coming and bet big on shorting the housing market when everyone else thought it was crazy.
At the beginning of the movie, the editing and the directorial style of Adam McKay was off-putting. A few parts, especially at the beginning and during the transition of film’s acts, were filled with quick cuts and tangentially related images that looked like it would come out of a student film to make a statement. However, this sets the fast pace of the movie.
Also, some of his characters break the 4th wall. This technique gives more insight into some of these characters’ thoughts. It was a little jarring at first because it could have been blended into or implied within the characters’ motivations and actions. This isn’t that type of movie though, so these techniques take some getting used to.
However, there are times in the movie where the financial conversations get confusing, since they’re about loans and CDOs. Any lack of understanding isn’t McKay’s fault, since the purpose of this movie is to inform and entertain audiences about one of the major causes of the 2008 financial meltdown. Those conversations were the slow parts, but McKay inserts celebrity explanations to ensure that he didn’t lose the audience in the financial jargon.
By focusing on four different storylines rather than just one character’s story, it takes an in-depth look into the consequences of this deal of the century, since each character looks at it differently. Pitt looks at it from an emotional perspective, whereas Bale is more frustrated by how the housing market is being artificially kept afloat, despite the inconsistencies. McKay does a good job in giving these stories equal time, or at least, make it appear so.
Michael Burry played by Christian Bale doesn’t have a whole lot of screen time, but the time he has is well utilized. This movie wouldn’t have been as good, if it focused only on the Burry character. It’s not to say that his performance isn’t good, but it’s better served as a part of the story rather than the the whole story. This also applies to the three other characters played by Pitt, Gosling, and Carell. Burry is an introvert who is naturally gifted at looking at these numbers and knowing that he’s right and everyone else is wrong. Bale isn’t in this movie. It’s only Dr. Michael Burry.
Brad Pitt has a bit mentor role in this movie as Ben Rickert, and it’s obvious that he has disdain for the culture and system. Even though he’s not in it much, he grounds the movie in reality and gives it emotional weight. Along with Bale, his screen time is short but sweet.
Ryan Gosling is arrogant yet likable as Jared Vennett, and he establishes the no-nonsense mentality of the movie. He’s funny because he tends to ridicule others and act like the big, know-it-all financial foreseer. He’s a bit of a bully to those around him but not to the extent of unlikability.
Steve Carell as Mark Baum anchors the movie in guilt, due to his personal demons relating to Wall Street and his reaction to shorting the housing market. It also results in a neurotic and funny character, and he’s a great blend of drama and humor.
Finn Wittrock as Jamie Shipley and John Magaro as Charlie Geller are surprisingly welcome additions to this ensemble cast. They held up their own to Bale, Carell, Gosling, and Pitt, even though they were only in a few scenes with Pitt and none of the other three main characters. They were on their own for a majority of their screen time. If their names had more clout, they would have deserved to be part of top billing. Their desire to be respected in their field despite their youth, is apparent in their eyes and their overall performance.
The music choice, such as metal, rap/hip-hop, and some pop, fits the characters and the situations of the movie. For example, some 70s groove sound is played, since that’s when the mortgage bond boom started. Score is used in the movie, but it’s not as noticeable as the various soundtracks played throughout the film.
“The Big Short” will leave you angry as the events depicted in the film affected everyone and created a mistrust of banks and large entities. It has a great ensemble cast and good performances. The editing and directorial style is off-putting at first, but it’s not a challenge to get through it, since this is a no-nonsense movie.