Review – The Big Short (15) [2016]

The Big Short - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director

  • Adam McKay – Step Brothers, The Other Guys, Anchorman I & II

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Nicholas Britell – Gimme The Loot, The Seventh Fire, A Tale of Love And Darkness, Tramps

In 2007, a financial crisis rocked the world. Akin to the Wall Street Crash of October 1929, tens of thousands of people lost their jobs and homes. Additionally, Lehman Brothers imploded, and the US Congress and the UK Parliament bailed out the rest of the big banks to (allegedly) ensure that the crisis did not worsen. How did it all happen? The Big Short highlights some of the factors.

Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale), in his office, listening to music whilst working out that the US property market would collapse in 2007.

Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale), in his office, listening to music whilst working out that the US property market would collapse in 2007.

The Big Short is a dark comedy based on the book with the same title by Michael Lewis. The film follows three separate but parallel stories which reveal the duplicity and the fraud of US bankers and brokers with regard to the US property market; in particular, to the business of subprime mortgages, to the buying and selling of (junk) BB ratings, and to schemes like collateral debt obligations (CDOs). However the film also shows us that were some people who predicted the collapse of the US property market several years in advance, such as Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale) and Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling). The movie is as much about them trying to take on the big banks (and make billions in the process), as it is about the general fraud that was (is) taking place at every level of the financial sector.

The Big Short is an interesting film. It impressively explains in simplistic terms why the US property and financial markets imploded so spectacularly in 2007/08. The film captures the horror of the upcoming catastrophe by, chiefly, showing us the mind-set and attitude of the people working in Wall Street at the time (and at the present too) in a non-flashy and unglamorous way.

Nevertheless, as interesting as that is (and it is genuinely interesting), the overwhelming majority of the characters in The Big Short are just horrible, greedy and selfish individuals with few (if any) redeeming traits. Of all the people in the film, Steve Carrell’s Mark Baum is the most empathetic and likeable as he has a conscience. Carrell plays well, but his character’s hot-headedness comes across as cartoonish and silly (like it did in Bruce Almighty) when it is supposed to be funny at times and serious at others. Similarly, Christian Bale plays very well and deserves his OSCAR nomination. Yet, his character is weird and socially awkward. This makes him/Michael Burry difficult to root for. (And it does not help that Bale looks miscast in the role. With his huge biceps, one does not expect him to behave weirdly, but rather to don the Bat-gear again and beat every banker and broker to a pulp.)

Mark Baum (Steve Carrell, sitting down in the centre), contemplating the horror about to unravel, as his associates shout at Jared Vallett (Ryan Gosling, sitting down, right).

Mark Baum (Steve Carrell, sitting down in the centre), contemplating the horror about to unravel, as his associates shout at Jared Vallett (Ryan Gosling, sitting down, right).

As for the rest of the cast, their crassness guarantees that bankers and brokers are going to be hated for some time to come yet. Even if one can admire one or two of them for their foresight and intelligence, e.g. Jared Vallett and Charlie Geller (John Magaro), one is almost certainly going to be put off by their arrogance, rudeness and avarice. There is only so much one can endure of watching arseholes behaving so unscrupulously. One becomes bored by it and disinterested in the film’s subject matter; and 130 minutes of it is just too much. That one has seen deplorable bankers and brokers behaving in such an amoral manner before (Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps, Margin Call and The Wolf of Wall Street) adds to the boredom and disinterest.

Yet, what is worse is the frustration one feels with The Big Short. The film has been billed as a satirical comedy, but to smile wryly only twice throughout the movie is not enough to justify such a billing. Plus, some of the movie’s (alleged) humour is just downright misogynistic. How is a cameo of Margot Robbie (as herself!) naked and in a bathtub explaining subprime mortgages funny? How is having a female stripper explaining the hazards of having loans on multiple houses, whilst lap-dancing, funny? Both just seem wrong in so many ways and not funny.

Charlie Geller (John Megaro, left) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock, right) speaking with Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) about making investments.

Charlie Geller (John Megaro, left) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock, right) speaking with Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) about making investments.

The sense that the film seems wrong is not just limited to its humour. The directing is extremely ill-disciplined. At certain points, the movie is linear; at other points, it is a music video; at others, the scenes change so suddenly and often, one can get a seizure; and, randomly, the film stops, so we can see a profile of a character or so that a character can face the audience and explain something. All of this makes for quirky viewing at best and ADD at worst. It also begs the question why Adam McKay has been nominated for an OSCAR in the Best Director category, considering that Ryan Coogler has not when the latter directed Creed so much better.

Over-all, The Big Short is a frustrating film. It is not particularly funny and it lacks focus in numerous ways. Yes, the movie successfully elucidates upon why the US property market and the world economy collapsed in 2007-08, which is no mean feat. But by The Big Short merely shouting at its viewers that it all happened because bankers and brokers are two-faced wankers is not only going down a well-trodden path, it also makes for repellent viewing.

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