The Big Short

the-big-short-1Audiences have traditionally had a hard time engaging with films dealing with high finance. There is a deliberate complexity about the goings on in banks and the stock market. This subject can be a combination of confusing and uninteresting. Surprising a lot of people at this year’s Oscar nominations, The Big Short gained five nods including best picture and adapted screenplay. It is considered to be the dark horse of the competition and was an unexpected success due to the way it tackled the aforementioned issues encountered by movies about money.

In 2007, the US housing market spectacularly crashed leading to a global economic meltdown. The aftershocks are still being felt today with many countries struggling to get back to fiscal stability. Billions of dollars were lost and many millions of people were forced out of their homes and jobs. The surprise was that nobody saw it coming. In fact, there were some who did just that. A couple of small groups of traders were able to analyse the markets and predict what was just about to unfold. At first the major banks did not take them seriously and when the groups started betting against the seemingly stable housing market the banks were only too willing to take their money, regarding it as a sure thing for them. Money for nothing and all that.

This has been labeled as a comedy in some recent reviews. It isn’t strictly accurate to say this. It is a very serious subject and it is chilling to see just what happened. The main characters are all a bit quirky and unusual for the job they are in. Christian Bale is Michael Burry, the man who initially worked out the threat of the imminent collapse. He is a shy, private and complicated individual who is tolerated because he makes money. He dresses down in the office to the point where he wears shorts and no shoes most of the time. Within the Wall Street environment, there is Mark Baum (Steve Carell), a guy who says exactly what is on his mind all the time while trying to cope with a tragic loss. The final piece of the jigsaw is Jared Vennet (Ryan Gosling), a trader with a winning charm and a rather dodgy hair colour.

the-big-short-2The humour is incidental to the story and happens as the situations unfold. It is never forced and scenes do not seem to have been inserted for comedy purposes. Director Adam McKay comes from a strong comedy background that involves a lot of improvised scenes to help keep a movie fresh. Here he has taken a more traditional approach as the film feels far more structured and scripted. It needs to be as the subject matter is really complex. McKay realises this early on and uses a novel way to keep the audience engaged. Instead of using one of the core characters to summarise the film basically stops as it cuts to the likes of Margot Robbie (in the bath) or Selena Gomez to explain an aspect of the story in straightforward terms.

That does not mean the story is spoon fed to the audience. You need to really concentrate to understand what is going on. There is much to take in and missing an element from a scene can mean the following scene or something else down the line becomes something of a mystery. Things are kept as light as possible with the characters frequently breaking the fourth wall to explain something or to point out an inaccuracy that is in place for dramatic reasons. This keeps the audience engaged and amused at the same time.

The overall feeling of the film is one of depression. The banks allowed the problem to happen owing to greed and the irony isn’t lost that by exposing the whole thing the main characters made an awful lot of money for their clients and for themselves. About two thirds of the film is taken up with the protagonists finding out just what a state things are in and the fact that people in charge willfully didn’t care. It is a genuine house of cards that folded in on itself. As Mark Baum states ” It wasn’t that they were stupid. They just didn’t care”

Overall, a really good and entertaining drama. Recommended.

John McArthur
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