Film Review: The Big Short (Paramount Pictures; 2015)

Paul Kennedy,  Contributor.

I wasn’t expecting to like The Big Short. It’s trailer played as the sort of films director Adam McKay usually makes – enjoyable, fluffy and ultimately forgettable.  But while it too is enjoyable The Big Short is a much more complex and interesting piece than it’s marketing has portrayed.

The film follows three separate and equally important stories about those who saw the financial collapse of 2008 coming before it happened. In an impressive juggling act McKay’s script fluidly balances the disparate tones of comedy, economic exposition, pop culture referentialism, familial melodrama, and, by the third act, what almost becomes horror.

 

Pointing fingers big short

Tension mounts in The Big Short. Source: Paramount Pictures.

McKay is aided by an impressive cast. The film, headlined by Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt is filled with above-average performances, everyone reasonably entertaining to watch. There are few truly great performances in the film however, the strongest being the ever-surprising Carell. Carell, who plays Mark Baum, is always switched on, bubbling with justified rage and unending frustration. He becomes a voice for the audience, expressing our disgust at Wall Street’s capacity for greed. Carell’s character is also by the far the most developed in the film, perhaps explaining why his performance comes off strongest. Lack of development does a disservice to a few of the characters in the film, most notably Christian Bale’s. Playing off-type as socially awkward numbers genius Michael Burry, Bale gives an impressive performance hugely different from his usual roles. Coming across as likable, strange and accidentally arrogant Bale achieves a strong depth in his performance, especially for a character whose primary action in the second and third act is intermittently writing on a white board. It’s a shame he doesn’t get more to play with, but his performance is still fantastic and has understandably attained award nominations.

Steve Carrell big short

Steve Carell as Mark Baum. Source: Paramount Pictures.

The true strength of the film is in how truthfully McKay writes his characters. I enjoyed every character’s story, and liked following each of them, but I’m still not sure if I should root for them. They might have taken advantage of America’s corrupt financial sector but they also exploited and gained from a collapse that destroyed lives in the process. McKay does not craft easy heroes, but he does craft truthful ones.

For someone wanting to try and understand what caused the financial crisis of 2008, The Big Short is definitely not a bad place to start. The film acts as a pertinent lesson on what created the economy we have today and the fact that it manages this hard task while also being an entertaining picture is nothing short of incredible.

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