4.5 / 5
Comedy guru Adam McKay’s latest, The Big Short, features one of the most star-studded cast this year has seen: Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt. It’s an immense group of good-looking gents and the film knows it. So much, in fact, that the marketing team has gone far enough to plaster their faces in one awkwardly unoriginal poster.
But, minor nitpick aside, McKay has given us his best work yet. The Big Short is a near-perfect merger of comedy, tension and drama, utilizing all of its talent without the excessive bombastry or humility.
Based on the novel by Michael Lewis, McKay’s screenplay documents the actions of the four men who predicted the housing bubble collapse that threw America to the ground. And with its mockumentary-like camerawork, The Big Short chronicles its turn of events with such style and aplomb that it’s almost as expressive as the headpieces.
But not nearly as much as its characters. With all the financial jargon and mumbo jumbo, McKay’s been so kind as to allow some of his characters to occasionally break the fourth wall — the “show and tell” anti-thesis to filmmaking’s number one rule about exposition. Gosling’s Jared Vennett — the most Wall Street buff of the bunch — acts as our primary mediator, smoothly explaining to us what a CDO is before passing the torch to celebrity faces like Selena Gomez or Margot Robbie.
The latter, solely dressed in bubbles in a hot tub, takes a minute to talk to the camera about sub-primes and the action of shorting against the market while half of us in the audience stare and don’t give a damn. It’s stylistic moves like these that allow The Big Short to mix the comedy and drama without being an exact duplicate of its raunchier, edgier big brother: Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
What The Big Short does differently, however, is tell a story about real American tragedy. Perhaps one of the only mishap is the fact that not until the third act do you realize the film’s protagonists are almost no better than the bigwigs they’re trying to cheat and expose.
They all bet against the big banks and have the possibility of earning tens of millions of dollars if their predictions come to fruition. McKay’s screenplay paints them with distinguishable characteristics that have us rooting for them despite their hypocritical intentions.
The Big Short is all fun and games until we start to realize that, if they’re right about the housing bubble, it’s not the big banks that’ll suffer, not the deceptive crooks who run them but the common taxpayers and citizens of the nation. Just like our anti-heroes, as we start to slowly approach the big payoff, the tombstone-heavy weight of reality takes over and tells us this was no joke.
With career-best performances from McKay and his cast, especially Carell, The Big Short tells its story with impeccable comedic timing and a heartbreaking reminder of the American dream and the price that comes with it — clearly hidden within the fine print of course.