Adam McKay is a man most widely associated with creating some of finest Saturday Night Live sketches, not to mention a lucrative career directing Will Ferrell vehicles. Anchorman 1 & 2, The Other Guys and Step Brothers have set up McKay up as a director of big talent with varying results. He’s assembled possibly his grandest cast yet with four of Hollywood’s favourites to bring us the hilarious story of the 2007 banking crisis. It’s not funny! You may wonder. The financial collapsed destroyed lives all over the world, the repercussions of which are felt today! True, but it’s a tale so absurd it requires a deft touch. It’s also a convoluted story much like finances in general.
Christian Bale plays Michael Burry, a genius but quirksome hedge fund manager with a love for Metal. He’s tolerated because he’s a certified genius. Reading over figures of bank customers mortgage payments and loans, for fun, he foresees a catastrophic banking year zero. All money will be lost, institutions crumble, dogs and cats living together mass hysteria. Realising that he can make a lot of money by enagaging the banks in a credit default swap. According to WikiPedia this means “The buyer of the CDS makes a series of payments (the CDS “fee” or “spread”) to the seller and, in exchange, receives a payoff if the loan defaults.”
Trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) gets wind of this investment and through pure accident informs hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell). Despite Baum’s initial reluctance to profit from the impending doom (he’s a very moral man) he’s dragooned by Vennett and his own team to get in on it. Finally we meet investor Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Whitrock) who find Vennett’s proposal by accident in a lobby – although it’s stressed that it didn’t quite go down like that in real life. Seeing an angle but without the experience they enlist the help of retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt).
Now we’re caught up with who everyone is… long story short the financial collapse happens. Who wins out? Who loses big time? Sure they might make millions but will they be happy? That’s as much character arc as you’ll need with The Big Short.
Performances are roundly solid. Gosling does seem to be playing a role is played several times before and Carrell is a bit like a quick witted version of Anchorman’s Brick but they’re roles they pull off with charm. Bale in particular putting in one of his most enjoyable turns in his varied career. He brings a breeziness to a role that often gets bogged down in financial speak.
In fact one of the joys of the film is the neck break pace with which the actors and McKay dispense with the info with a light touch. Gosling’s very reliable narrator is just the right side of smarm and when something complicated needs to be explained we get Margot Robbie drinking champagne in a bathtub to explain. Yes, now you get the tone. It’s free and easy throughout despite the heavy subject. At over two hours the pace does become wearisome toward the end but it’s sheer entertainment throughout.
There’s no great secrets unveiled or moral codes changed. We know greedy people got rich and the right people didn’t go to jail. The Big Short sees the absurdity in it all and presents us with something equally silly. It’s impressive that the film has received several oscar noms because it is probably one of the first comedies in a while to receive one, and that’s what it is in reality – a very well put together romp dealing with a subject that could easily become laborious. It’s without doubt McKay’s best film as writer/director to date and here’s hoping he finds another grim subject to sink his teeth into next.
4 / 5
Dir: Adam McKay
Scr: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Rafe Spall, Marisa Tomei
Prd: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Arnon Milchan, Brad Pitt
DOP: Barry Ackroyd
Music: Nicholas Britell
Run time: 130 mins
The Big Short is in cinemas nationwide now.