AFI Fest 2015 Review: Adam McKay's Banker Comedy 'The Big Short'
by Marco Cerritos
November 18, 2015
The 2008 financial collapse is put under a microscope (again) in the new satire The Big Short, a movie that candidly raises more questions than it answers. Most of its dialogue is dense economics jargon that will fly by most moviegoers but not alienate them. The plot is easy to navigate without fully understanding the fine print thanks to director and co-writer Adam McKay (Anchorman, Step Brothers) and his nose for quick wit. This is McKay's first dramatic turn after directing broad comedies like Anchorman, and The Other Guys, and he handles the change well, infusing the film with much needed levity when needed.
Recent films like Margin Call, Inside Job and this year's superb 99 Homes with Andrew Garfield have dealt with the housing crisis in different ways. The Big Short focuses on the true story of a few Wall Street insiders who saw the market collapse coming and schemed ideas to profit from the global disaster. Adapted from Michael Lewis' (Moneyball) book of the same name, co-writers McKay and Charles Randolph took on the unenviable task of making sense of something that most people still don't understand to this day. As a result the film is comically upfront about its lack of answers and instead jumps into the deep end by unloading the financial hyperbole whenever possible.
The Big Short has a large ensemble cast but focuses on four major players who benefitted in various ways from betting against the American economy. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is a stock market savant whose glass eye and lack of social skills have made him a pariah at work yet being an outcast is part of what makes him study the uneven housing market. Sensing the chaos coming he creates a domino effect on Wall Street that will attract a pair of narcissistic traders (Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling) and a retired financial advisor (Brad Pitt) helping out neighbors in need of guidance. Gosling also serves as the film's narrator and his dark and sarcastic demeanor keep The Big Short afloat during its most bewildering scenes. More than once he literally stops the film cold to explain that the outrageous scenes depicted really happened despite their seemingly embellished nature.
It would help to be well versed in financial speak before seeing The Big Short but not imperative. Despite the film's dense exterior its message is pretty clear thanks to its playful visual nature as well as McKay and Randolph's screenplay. There is a lot of information to digest in the movie's quick running time but it's an entertaining ride that does its best to shed light on a dark subject.
Marco's AFI 2015 Rating: B+
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