The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2015)
Full disclosure: I’m not what you would call *interested* in finance – my eyes tend to glaze over when people start talking about stocks and super and whatever the hell else. But I became the tiniest bit more intrigued after J.C. Chandor’s brilliant Margin Call in 2011, set during the beginnings of the Global Financial Crisis. The script was phenomenal, the performances flawless, and it achieved the seemingly unachievable: making finance interesting. So four years later along comes The Big Short. A film with even greater buzz, greater Oscar chances, and a hot-arse cast. I was excited.
It’s good. But for me, not great. Whereas Margin Call’s running joke was that none of the people high up actually understand the jargon involved in the finance world, The Big Short’s joke is that people who work in finance use it to confuse people, and hence the filmmakers attempt to demystify that confusion. Enter Margot Robbie in a bathtub explaining what subprime mortgages are, followed by the odd cameo here and there where people like Selena Gomez attempt to explain the jargon. And then Ryan Gosling does something with dominoes. It’s funny, but it didn’t help me understand. If anything, Margot Robbie in a bathtub is very distracting.
I still don’t really even understand why it’s called The Big Short. But they did show a giant poster of Martin Short as they panned across Las Vegas – and I’ll concede that was funny. In fact, there was plenty of humour in what is essentially a horrific tale of greed (though it didn’t do it as well as The Wolf of Wall Street did either). It clearly has some important things to say – and I vaguely understood what those things were – but altogether I was lost.
The cast are certainly one of the film’s highlights, with Christian Bale the absolute star in an ensemble piece. Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt all deliver some of their best performances, not the least because they’ve disguised their movie star good looks, assumedly to be more convincing as people who work in finance. Various bit-players are showed up to be the complete nobs that they are – celebrating the victories that make them money but that screw over the whole economy. And they got away with it. It’s another film that may make audiences angry – if they understand it, that is.