Before the U.S. economy crashed during the latter half of the previous decade, a handful of intelligent investment brokers saw something in the data that everyone else overlooked. Based on the book by Michael Lewis (he also wrote the book Moneyball), The Big Short knows it has a lot of ground to cover and keeps an energetic pace from beginning to end. At times you feel like you’re drowning in numbers and financial jargon. But we’re saved by a talented ensemble led by director Adam McKay in his most confident film yet.
The Big Short is a comedy, but it’s never laugh out loud hilarious. It’s a drama, but it doesn’t really hit you where it stings. The Big Short exists somewhere in between comedy and real life tragedy, and the balance is more or less pulled off successfully. Given its heavy subject matter, it’s an accomplishment in and of itself that the film is downright entertaining. If you’re going to the movies to turn your brain off, you can plan on skipping this one.
I personally failed to absorb about 98% of the dialogue in the film. But, that’s where the filmmaking comes in. The filmmakers acknowledge the likelihood of this disconnect between the audience and the material from the outset. To help keep you running on the same track as the characters, the film is sporadically interrupted with fourth-wall breaking to speak directly at the audience. For a lug like me, you could do a lot worse than have Margot Robbie explain mortgages while in a bubble bath. By the end of the film you’ll either be delighted or annoyed by this motif.
Sadly, the movie is lackluster in its ability to handle any subtext. Points are repeatedly beaten into the ground and after a while it becomes a bit exasperating. At its most uninspired, mainly during its rocky start, The Big Short feels like an attempt at a widescreen version of “The Office.” At its best, it feels cut from the same cloth as In the Loop. Some of the film’s initial attempts at humour frankly fall flat on their faces. However, there are enough witty lines in the screenplay that overshadow some of the more unsuccessful attempts.
Steve Carell, Christian Bale, and Brad Pitt all give their characters enough personality that you feel the ups and downs of the story along with them. Even if we, in the audience, can’t fully comprehend the mathematics of it all, we believe that the characters do. And as far as a moviegoing experience goes, that’s all that needs to be done sometimes to get you through difficult passages of dialogue.
While everyone pulls his or her weight, Ryan Gosling tries way too hard to channel Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross. The character ultimately works, however, and moments where he breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience are a delight. But it would’ve been nice to see Gosling really go wild with the character in a direction that doesn’t seem so predictable. And it’s fantastic to see that director Adam McKay puts Carell to better use here than he did in the lame Anchorman 2.
At first, McKay seems to be throwing every visual shorthand in the book at you. He also seems to have studied The Wolf of Wall Street extensively. Eventually the director finds his own groove and there are sequences where the film hums like a well-oiled machine. Coming from a guy best known for his fratboy comedies, The Big Short marks a big leap for the director. The film is a satire with just enough bite to win you over.
Three and a half fraudulent bonds out of five!