In 2005, hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) came up with a theory, a theory that caused colleagues, investors and banks to believe that Burry was completely wasting time and money. Bury predicted that the housing market would collapse at some stage in 2007, and began to bet against the market. It’s not long before other financial dealers get wind of this theory and, believing Burry to be right, begin to gamble against the American economy. Little do they realise however, that the impending crash will be bigger than they could have imagined.
The Big Short is certainly not the first film to take inspiration from the great economic crash of 2007/2008, but Adam McKay’s first foray into drama is a smart, funny and damning look at the events that led to the crash, the effects of which are still being felt around the world.
The ensemble cast at the heart of The Big Short ably carry the film, with Christian Bale and Steve Carell standing out as hedge fund managers who are weighed down by the moral weight of the crash they see coming. Ryan Gosling has some fun with his ruthless character Jared Vennett and Brad Pitt brings some weight to proceedings as a retired banker brought in to help some young investors. The rest of the cast features Rafe Spall, Karen Gillan, Marisa Tomei, Hamish Linklater, Melissa Leo, John Magaro and Finn Wittrock. As well as this, Selena Gomez, Margot Robbie and Anthony Bourdain are drafted in for cameo roles to explain some of the more convoluted banking jargon.
Charles Randolph and Adam McKay adapted the screenplay for The Big Short from Michael Lewis’ book of the same name, and although license has been taken with some parts of the story, the actors are happy to break the fourth wall of Ryan Gosling’s voice over to correct the facts, while implying this was done for the sake of the story. McKay and Randolph have done their best to make a potentially dry story about the financial crash light and entertaining, with the characters’ patronising manner of speaking done for the sake of comedy, as opposed to demeaning the audience, but at the end of it all, this is another film about the financial crash and even though having celebrities explain the more dry, convoluted facts is entertaining, it does little to clear up the details of the transactions. In fact, since the film clocks in at over two hours long, it could be argued that in trying to make things simple, the film makes them more complicated, and a shorter running time could have forced the film to be more concise.
As director, Adam McKay makes The Big Short slick and entertaining, with the first two acts of the film well paced and engaging. The performances are strong, there is plenty to laugh at with these ‘Wall Street’-esque traders being seemingly unaware of their own arrogance and the film is cleverly edited. The final act of the film struggles under the weight of its own detail, but the characters are charismatic enough to just about carry the film through this. Elsewhere, the soundtrack to the film features some comedically on the nose music choices, such as “Feel Good Inc” by Gorillaz and “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley.
In all, The Big Short is ambitious, well put together and engaging. The cast are on fine form; the film is patronising in all the best ways and features a killer soundtrack. Where it struggles, however, is in trying to make the banking jargon accessible, yet somehow making it all the more complicated. Still,The Big Short is a thrill ride, which is quite the compliment since we already know how the entire thing is going to turn out.