I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.Howard Beale, Network
Well, maybe not.
The Big Short is director and co-writer Adam McKay’s run at an All the President’s Men or Network, and though it comes up short *cough cough* in both cases, it is a compelling movie about a complicated subject. With a 150-minute running time, McKay manages to explore four outlying financial investor groups who managed to predict the housing collapse of 2008 and, in one case, by the foresight of two years.
How America found itself in the middle of such a colossal crisis is well-documented, speculated, and reported—which, sadly, says nothing as to how that information was received—making McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph’s most difficult hurdle a simple one: how to make all of this compelling? His answer is both annoying and effective as McKay manages to simultaneously inform and talk down to his audience. He achieves this by using text on-screen, direct address (à la Ryan Gosling’s boiler-room-brah-banker, Jared Vennett, and a couple of celebrity castings), and rapid-fire montages of information.
The direct addresses become tiresome, but when McKay weaves the information into the dialog, the movie gains considerable ground. In one scene, two low-level bankers in charge of signing clients to sub-prime loans explain, matter-of-factly, how they push their product. As Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team of investors listen, they become more and more infuriated at the blatant lack of ethics, even basic human decency. “I can’t believe they confessed,” Baum says to his team upon departing the meeting. “They weren’t confessing,” one responds. “They were bragging.”
The same could be said of The Big Short, a movie that is furious that this oversight transpired, but not without a healthy amount of awe. As Baum and his cohorts; Vennett; California-based genius investor, Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale); and a Boulder-based retired investor, Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), and his two students all discover—the collapse of the housing market goes deeper than any could have predicted. Baum even manages to realize that this intricate system goes all the way up to the Oval Office.
While those listed above are right in their estimations, McKay offers us no heroes in a movie filled with varying shaded of villainy. None of them are worth rooting for because their success is in the destruction of the American people. It is a moral crisis that plagues Baum but fails to ruffle the hairs on the other’s head. They have already resigned their selves to the death blow being dealt the American public, and now they are out for blood. Might as well get a little something from the bastards on the way down.
And as far as McKay is concerned, we are still on the way down. To punctuate act breaks, McKay utilizes quotes from great thinkers, but the one most appropriate is left off the table, Karl Marx’s infamous: “History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce.” McKay, known primarily for his comedies with Will Ferrell, employs very little laughs in The Big Short, but with Dr. Burry’s many references to previous collapses, there is an invitation to view 2008’s financial collapse as a comedy of errors. But this comedy kills, and if the final information McKay provides is true, then there is another bloodthirsty comedy coming ’round the bend.
The Big Short (2015)
Directed by: Adam McKay
Written by: Adam McKay, Charles Randolph
Based on the book by Michael Lewis
Produced by: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Arnon Milchan, Brad Pitt
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong, Brad Pitt, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock
Paramount Pictures, Rated R, Running time 150 minutes, Opens December 23, 2015