Wasn’t sure what to expect from The Big Short, the true story of how a bunch of brokers and fund managers made billions from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Though I majored in finance for my business degree at university, I never really developed a passion for all the complex financial products, especially derivatives, and the last thing I wanted to see was a movie about the industry and how it works.
Dudes and dudettes, my concerns were misplaced. The Big Short turned out to be a highly entertaining and fascinating riot of a comedy that ranks up there as one of my most enjoyed movie experiences of the year. Apart from finally getting a clue about what actually happened in 2008, I laughed my butt off at the wicked and witty humour. And yet, amid all the fast-paced explanations and hilarity, the film doesn’t forget that millions of people lost their jobs and homes because of the greed and incompetence of those who run our financial systems.
It’s difficult to balance jokes and paying respect to what is a massive tragedy for so many people, particularly one that’s still fresh in our memories, which is why full credit must go to director and co-writer Adam McKay. It’s even more impressive when you consider that McKay, an SNL alum, is the guy who previously gave us farcical comedies such as Anchorman, Talledega Nights and Step Brothers.
McKay steps up in a big way, using a clever and innovative storytelling methods that include breaking the fourth wall and getting seemingly random celebrities to explain complex financial concepts in layman’s terms. As you would expect, there are plenty of explanations in this film, though it’s always done in a fun way that’s relevant to that point in the plot. The pieces are always moving so it never feels like things are constantly starting and stopping. You may not understand the concepts completely, but most regular viewers should garner enough knowledge to get by. Despite all the financial jargon, I felt like I was watching an exciting heist film.
Of course, the A-list cast is another huge reason to see this film. Christian Bale, who got another Oscar nomination (Best Supporting Actor), portrays Dr Michael Burry, the only character to use his actual name for the movie and the guy who first discovered that it would only be a matter of time before the US housing market faces a complete collapse. To be honest, I don’t know if Bale deserves the nomination, for if it were up to me I’d probably give it to Steve Carrell, a hedge fund manager approached by Ryan Gosling’s slick bond salesman to invest in credit default swaps. Carrell steals the show a little bit in my opinion and is arguably even better than he was in Foxcatcher.
This trio of big names are backed up by a whole host of solid supporting actors. The most notable is Brad Pitt, who co-produced the film and plays a former banker with a pessimistic view of the system. He is flanked by two very impressive youngsters, John Magaro and Finn Wittrock, who plays a couple of up-and-coming hedge fund guys who started out in their garage. Others recognisable names like Rafe Spall, Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei round out a spectacular ensemble cast that rivals Spotlight for most impressive of the year.
Earlier today I was just telling a friend — who thought the film might be boring — that The Big Short reminds me a little of The Wolf of Wall Street but without all the swearing and debauchery. I say that not just because both are about the corruption of the financial sector, but because of the rapid pace and machine-gun dialogue, the sharp wit, the light tone layered with dark themes, and the impeccable comedic timing. While I can’t quite compare my enjoyment of The Big Short to the epic levels of fun I had with The Wolf of Wall Street, I still consider it a smashing success, a delightful mix of learning and humour that deserves its reputation as one of the year’s top flicks.
4.5 stars out of 5