2016 / Director. Adam McKay.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
“@#$&%#$!@$*)^$##@!*!!” says my brain after watching THE BIG SHORT. I am not a business man and any talk of finance does my head in. The writers of this gobsmacking true story know it, and they play on the fact that people like myself struggle to comprehend the complexities of the financial sector. And so rather than presenting a straight-forward narrative they have broken all the rules and delivered an unconventional, and subsequently engaging, true account of the 2007-2008 Financial Crisis.
The story follows four financial outsiders who independently identify the pending crisis within the home-loan sector, while all of their peers ignore the information and continue to swindle American home owners. In a perpetual state of disbelief they attempt to bring the looming disaster to attention and are laughed out of every office. The film's title refers to a credit-default-swap, which the four key players invest in to undermine the system and expose the criminals working at the top, which as it turns out, is almost everyone.
If you tuned out during the last paragraph, or it made you feel woozy, then welcome to the club. Just about everyone who sees THE BIG SHORT will not have a single damn clue what's really going on, and yet director Adam McKay cleverly deploys a series of techniques to present the information in laymen’s terms. Most of the characters cross the fourth wall mid-scene to break things down to the audience. The same characters will also throw to popular celebrities, who will explain the situation in elementary ways. At first I thought that this structure would be distracting, but as it turns out, it's a stroke of genius.... and to think this is from the director of STEP-BROTHERS, ANCHORMAN and THE OTHER GUYS. The result is a terrifying indictment of the American banks and the criminal frauds who wrought the system. It will infuriate almost anyone who sees it.
To sell the story, the film enlists an impressive ensemble of players who each give convincing turns. I doubt that any of them had a full comprehension of what they were doing or saying and yet they all deliver absolutely persuasive performances. The credit list includes Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt and Christian Bale, who are all excellent. However the knock-out performance comes from Steve Carell, who gives the film its emotional core and represents the morality of the whole damn catastrophe. There are also some worthy bit-performances from Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo and Tracy Letts, as well as celebrity cameos who shall remain nameless for now.
THE BIG SHORT is an alarming expose that will outrage anyone who sees it, and it explains the world economy to us regular folk as basically as it can. It is well written, confidently directed and brilliantly performed. It is sure to garner many accolades and will probably will lots of awards... but will it make a lick of difference to the world it's so passionately condemning? No way. To criminals at the top will continue to live a lavish life, while so many millions of others hit rock-bottom. It's heartbreaking.