Thursday 7 January 2016


(Adam McKay, 2015)

It starts out all Goodfellas-by-way-of-amped-up-1990s-Oliver Stone; rapid changes in film stock, music pumping, loads of voiceover, exposition but delivered with wit and gags and style; angry and exhilarated and loud and energetic.
Thats lasts about 15-20 minutes, and then The Big Short settles into what it actually is: a sort of real life financial heist story. Oh, every so often McKay throws in a little splash of post-modernism - here's Selena Gomez or Margot Robbie or Anthony Bourdain, as themselves, explaining some complex financial concept in layman's terms, here's Ryan Gosling's narrator figure addressing the camera - but mainly it stays on the straight and narrow, and just tells its story.
Luckily that story is inherently interesting. How the global financial crash came about is just one more story beat here; and when Steve Carrell's Mark Baum realises what is about to happen and is sent reeling away from a restaurant, stunned by the knowledge, The Big Short reaches a nice pitch of hysterical black comedy and sober despair at what was allowed to happen. His character has his own Fund, and he and his team bet wildly against the housing market at the behest of Gosling's slick trader Jared Vennett. They have been beaten to the punch by oddball genius hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale), who defies all his clients and incurs at least one lawsuit by doing the same thing a year or so earlier. Then there are the two small town traders who happen across this deal and, aided by their ex-Wall Street Hotshot neighbour Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) buy into the same game.
From then on, its just a waiting game, and McKay conjures impressive tension, considering the fact that we all know what eventually happens.
In the interim McKay shows his characters shock at just how rigged and corrupt the banking industry in the USA was back then, but always keeps the actions and locations varied - Wall Street is prominent, but his characters visit Miami condos, Vegas casinos, Devon Pubs and lap-dancing clubs along the way. Even if the humour is pitch black, he drops the odd bombshell of realism to shock the audience: Pitt chiding his young proteges by recounting the human cost of what will happen being perhaps the highlight.
The starry cast makes it all that much more painless. Gosling can play smug and slick in his sleep, Carrell makes Baum's emotional implosion not only queasy but touching, Pitt is convincingly eccentric, and Bale steals the film with his surges of energy (soundtracked to heavy metal drumming) and inability to socially connect.
McKay keeps it busy and colourful, and ends on a nice note of triumph for his heroes, but defeat for his country, which is probably as it should be, with this story.

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