D: Adam McKay. DP: Barry Ackroyd. W: Charles Randolph & Adam McKay (Based on the book by Michael Lewis.) Starring: Christian Bale/Steve Carrell/Ryan Gosling/Brad Pitt/Marissa Tomei/Jeremy Strong/Hamish Linklater/Rafe Spall/Finn Wittrock/John Magaro/Max Greenfield/Billy Magnusson/Melissa Leo/Tracy Letts/Adepero Oduye.
Sandwiched between costume dramas and survival epics are a few films this award season based on large intricate real events. The Big Short is one of those and chronicles three different stories of the discovering of the housing market bubble that would lead to the financial crisis in America in 2008. A complicated system to even explain, The Big Short manages to be cynical, satirical, and directly engage its audience in understanding the bedrock of Wall Street.
Director Adam McKay, who wrote and directed both Anchorman films, received a gift from the Gods that his movie follows Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film, The Wolf of Wall Street. With the clear picture of a turned out Leonard DiCaprio in our minds as decrepit banker #85723 (number hypothetical), The Big Short can be self-aware that it is destabilizing a world just put on screen. In a delightfully silly, but helpful nod to Scorsese’s film Margot Robbie appears in a bathtub drinking champagne to explain to the audience some Wall Street jargon. These appearances of direct address to the audience are coupled with Ryan Gosling as banker Jared Vennett whose voice-over is sprinkled throughout the film. With dyed brown hair Gosling has a sickly orange glow to him and acts as a guide for the audience, a conceit that thankfully never gets overplayed.
In these ways McKay is in command of his material and plays with audience’s knowledge of the lifestyles of the rich and the famous. This includes music ques and the use of music videos to reiterate the complicity of media in the farce. Affirmations must also go to veteran female (!) editor Thelma Schoonmaker for a punchy style that isn’t overdone. In a fun twist she also edited The Wolf of Wall Street as the long standing editor for Scorsese. McKay’s vision was clearly deftly planned from the start.
McKay assembled a fine group of veterans to handle a wordy complicated script that does not ask for a tremendous emotional range. Rather Christian Bale’s Dr. Michael Burry is a subtle representation of a man whose brilliance does not necessarily compute to social skills. It is nice to see Bale in a produced down role, lacking capes and bellies galore. The center of the film however is Steve Carrell as hedge fund manger Mark Baum whose is the most emotionally conflicted character. This works because nearly everyone is so distracted with making money off of the destruction of American lives that his exhaustion and disgust plays true. Produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B he does his duty by showing up for a part in it, making sure to remind his young protege’s of where their profits come from.
The Big Short is based on Michael Lewis’ novel inspired by these events. His books also became 2011’s Moneyball and 2009’s The Blind Side so his track record is certainly enviable. In the impending Oscar race this film is hard to compare to treacherously emotional journeys of other entries, but ultimately is a clever and investigative piece of filmmaking. The use of flickering images and cash money rap songs around sequences of characters walking through empty homes abandoned by their broke families sends chills. As I left the theater it was heard not to hear Polonius saying “neither a borrower nor a lender be” and not rush home to put my money under my mattress.