The Big Short is one of those awards-season films that no-one knows about before release, and everyone raves about after. The five Oscar nominations, amongst many others, attest to this. However for the general moviegoer, this film is hard to watch.
The plot, based on 2010’s non-fiction book ‘The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine’, depicts the build-up and climax of the 2007-2009 housing crisis, from the perspective from several involved parties. These parties include Michael Burry (Christian Bale), Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his workers, and Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who all react to the gradual realisation and execution of the crisis differently.
The main problem with The Big Short that makes it a challenge to watch is that the plot is so intrinsically linked to economics, that people without knowledge of economic terms and ideas struggle to keep apace of the story. Terms like ‘subprime loans’ or ‘collateralised debt obligations’ are thrown about and not adequately explained- the film attempts to illuminate us, featuring cameos from the likes of Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez explaining economic ideas, but it simply isn’t enough for the average viewer.
Fairly early on in the film I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to follow the story of the film, and resigned myself to watching the character dynamics instead. Upon reading the Wikipedia plot summary and researching the terms the plot made a lot more sense, but I feel I missed a lot from the film due to not knowing enough about economics.
The main-billed cast provide adequate performances, with Carell being the only one to give a genuinely enjoyable role combining his usual oblivious humour with a depth relating to his past and conflicting morals. The best acting comes from the supporting cast, with actors such as Jeremy Strong and John Magaro really helping us invest in their characters, and therefore the dramatic action of the film. Unfortunately, the sheer size of the cast restricts the screen time for each individual actor. Christian Bale disappears for most of the film, and no characters save Carell’s are given an adequate character arc.
Adam McKay is an established director at this point, so his shooting decisions are baffling. During normal conversations the camera will duck and weave around in a sickening way, making the film sometimes painful to watch. There are several bizarre montages which seem out of place, and the direction as a whole seems to try to imitate The Wolf of Wall Street, complete with fourth-wall breaks, words & images on screen and great musical choices. There are worse styles to imitate, but with such a similar topic it becomes rather obvious.
Whilst some of the performances are enjoyable to watch, The Big Short tries to tackle a complicated and horrifying event but simply fails to properly cover the scope of it. This is not the fault of the direction, acting or editing but a combination of minor shortcomings in all areas coupled with the incomprehensible nuances of the event. Frankly, I’m not sure it would be possible to do justice to the subject- but it was worth someone trying anyway.
Review by Tom Bedford