In the immediate wake of the Global Financial Crisis, there was only one question; “how did this happen?” With some hindsight into the immediate turmoil and turbulence of that recession the question evolved; “how the hell did no-one know this was going to happen?!” Co-writer/director Adam McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph have adapted Michael Lewis’ novel of the same name, about the small crew of Wall Street guys who collectively saw the signs of the impending collapse and were so sure about it that they put money on it.
McKay’s placement of the camera is exciting; its motion and frenzy against the tide of smugness. It keeps the energy high in the fast paced conversations and the rapid fire decision making of all these mathematically minded, calculating, playfully hostile characters. However, he also impresses in the way that stays in the pocket in pivotal moments, stewing in the characters angst. One massive highlight is Porter Collins (Hamish Linklater), stalking through an abandoned trade floor of Goldman Sachs (fact check name); the meaninglessness of this once hallowed Wall Street turf is spine-tingling.
The (now Oscar winning) script by Mckay and Charles Randolph is the perfect balance between fast-talking jargon and idiot proofing. It’s approachable, goofy, and has such a great no bullshit attitude that’s central to the eclectic bunch. Interspersed with flurries of hilarious finance tutorials featuring celebrity cameos from Anthony Bordain (spelling), Selena Gomez gambling and my personal favourite, Margot Robbie in a bubble bath cursing at the audience; it torpedoes the density like taking a relieving deep breath before immersing yourself back in the deep water subject. And in one great exchange between Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) they address the audience to admit that the scene that they’ve just portrayed has been intentionally altered from the facts of the story in order to merge several events together that would have interrupted the flow of the story as they happened. McKay has his finger on the pulse of the audience’s attention span and for a movie that acknowledges that the subject is complex, there’s absolutely no point that you feel stupid; that’s really the very best that a satire can hope to achieve.
Ultimately, the ensemble are banking on an impending disaster and that should really make you dislike them; but it doesn’t. McKay and Randolph present the characters first and foremost (except perhaps for Christian Bale’s Michael Burry) as making their moves with a kind of audacity. It’s like watching teenagers try and scam their teachers, being fully aware of the fact that they’re going to get caught. But as the film progresses, and they all collectively dive deeper into this situation; they cannot believe that their manoeuvre would not awaken the market to the situation. Instead it displays it’s selective blindness and levels of negligent denial, now infamous.
The casting does a wonderful job in bringing aboard actors who the audience adores and having them do questionable things, but always maintain their likeability. The extended cast of Marisa Tomei, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong, Magaro and Wittrock are universally excellent.
Christian Bale delivers another great performance as Michael Burry. Talking out the side of his mouth, wearing slovenly clothes, adjusting his distracting glass eye; and yet his detached personality gives him the space for the objectivity that leads to this premonition. Steve Carell is sensational as the crusading, volatile and ‘guilty until proven innocent’ Mark Baum. Carell animates Baum’s investigative realisations like he’s been dialled into your inner monologue. Brad Pitt’s Ben Rickert seems to already have come to the conclusion that the industry is bent. Rickert quietly mentors Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) to protect their enthusiasm with smart investments, but he is at the destination that the rest of the ensemble eventually come to; exuding the bitterness of someone who has seen behind the curtain. Ryan Gosling’s Jared Vennett, the narrator who continues to address the audience through the film is a slimy Jordan Belfort clone who is the lure for Baum and his team.
The Big Short is about a group of people who wanted to be whistle blowers and realised that the corruption of their system was implicit. It’s a necessary satire, disarming you with laughs and dismantling you with the savage callous truth.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: Adam McKay
Written by: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay (based on the book by Michael Lewis)
Ryan Gosling – Jared Vennett
Christian Bale – Michael Burry
Steve Carell – Mark Baum
Marisa Tomei – Cynthia Baum
Rafe Spall – Danny Moss
Hamish Linklater – Porter Collins
Jeremy Strong – Vinnie Daniel
Brad Pitt – Ben Rickert
John Magaro – Charlie Geller
Finn Wittrock – Jamie Shipley