DVD Review: The Big Short

3 minutes



The closing credit sequence of Adam McKay’s The Other Guys inexplicably plays out with infographics on ponzi schemes, the immorality of big bank CEOs and just what a naughty boy Bernie Madoff was. In spite of unquestionable comedic wit – from numerous Will Ferrell offerings – it’s hard to see how or why the director was chosen to bring Michael Lewis’ straight-laced book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine to the big screen. Sporadically hilarious, dizzyingly dynamic and at times downright infuriating, The Big Short admirably attempts to distil the rhymes and riddles of complicated banking practice for a lay audience. Films of a similar ilk went for an approach of either less is more – Margin Call – or overtly more is more – The Wolf of Wall Street – but McKay’s latest feature is all over the map.

Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt, amongst others, constitute a conspicuously male-dominated ensemble; Marisa Tomei and Melissa Leo barely register. The name of the game for our main players is to bet against the system by “shorting” the historically solid – but in reality “dog shit wrapped in cat shit” – mortgage loans on which the entire US economy relied: a scene of expository Deutsche Bank Jenga is of towering importance. Sticking it to the man by opposing the hegemony of big banks suggests a Robin Hood-esque philanthropy but success here means financial ruin for regular folks the world over. Other than one put- down by Pitt’s grizzled, new-age ex-financier, to his pair of young padawans (played by John Magaro and Finn Wittrock), there is little to no exploration of this knife edge morality or condemnation of their actions.

Although succeeding as a black comedy, some of the murky greys are left disappointingly untouched. Acutely conscious of its self-consciousness, The Big Short contains even more stylistic flourishes than it does characters. A cloying Mark Twain quote precedes Gosling’s perma-tanned Jared Vennett swiftly demolishing the fourth wall with roguish narration that continues throughout. Anthony Bourdain, Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez enlighten us with advanced economic knowledge via direct address that further punctuates the staccato rhythm of a film that lacks cohesion. Frantically edited time lapse imagery, blurred freeze frame paparazzi style photography and news footage flash between a narrative that also flits incessantly from pillar to post.

Perhaps due to the quirkiness of his character, it’s Bale’s softly spoken, stuttering turn as Michael Burry that is the most endearing. With an affinity for numbers but not so much social interaction, it’s he who, in 2005, discovers the impending catastrophe. Via Vennett, hedge funder Mark Baum (Carell) catches wind of Burry’s madcap scheme and wants a piece of the action. After his unsettling performance in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, Carell again demonstrates his impressive versatility. Three storylines with much the same message to tell thus run in tandem without offering much more than surface level characterisation; sacrificing at least one would have benefited the project as a whole. The end product is a fast-talking, entertaining, but frustrating hodgepodge.

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Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens

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