Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Big Short Review

"Truth is like poetry. And most people hate fucking poetry."

The global economic collapse that took place in 2007 and '08 was a dark time for so many people, and frankly there is nothing funny about it. Homes taken away, families devastated, lives ruined.

So why was I laughing so much during The Big Short?

The tonal shifts during this film were a bit jarring, but I have taken some time to think it over and what initially seemed a bit off may just be the movie's greatest achievement. This is a damn funny comedy, which both makes it an entertaining thrill to watch the film unfold and it also makes the gut punches sting that much more. 

In a way, it almost feels like director Adam McKay is speaking to the audience and their reaction to the material at times, especially one specific quote that comes from Brad Pitt's character Ben Rickert. While others are celebrating their personal success off of the massive economic destruction of millions of others, he delivers this line:

"If we're right, people lose homes. People lose jobs. People lose retirement savings, people lose pensions. You know what I hate about fucking banking? It reduces people to numbers. Here's a number - every 1% unemployment goes up, 40,000 people die, did you know that?"

Just like that, a sobering kick in the ass after a lot of laughs and a lot of fun, and as a person who has worked for over a decade in the banking industry, what he says is so true it hurts. I don't know people and I don't know their stories, but when a person has a vastly negative account they are judged for being delinquent. They are a red number. There isn't time for compassion or understanding when the work is moving fast and deadlines need to be met. They are just a number when in reality they are a person who might be truly struggling to get through each day.

Some minor issues with the film still bug me days after viewing it. For example, while the comedic tone was not only entertaining but also important to balance with the drama, McKay took it a little over-the-top for my tastes at times like when they use celebrity cameos to explain complicated banking procedures. Sure, it is entertaining and clever to see the beautiful Margot Robbie in a bubble bath simplifying some economics for the audience, but I felt like the breaking the fourth wall communication may have gone just a few steps too far along the way.

On a performance level, The Big Short is an ensemble piece that nails it across the board with Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt and many others doing a fantastic job working off the Oscar nominated script from McKay and Charles Randolph, who adapted the novel of the same name by Michael Lewis. Bale and Carell are probably the strongest of the bunch but everyone here seemed to fit right in with what this film and the style of the material needed.

Maybe the genius of this film is that in order to find an audience willing to take a look at just how much big banking fucked us over and got away with it, we needed the comedy. Perhaps a doom and gloom approach just wouldn't latch on to our interests and fail to sell tickets. McKay delivers a strong, important message within the context of this fast paced, humorous picture and the more I sit here thinking about it, the more it works.

Margot Robbie in a bubble bath to make an economics lesson more interesting. Pretty smart indeed.



  1. Sweet seems like we share the same thoughts on this movie. I was debating on whether or not I'd put up a review for it, but it just seemed like a complicated review to write so I didn't.

    I really appreciated the comedy. That got me through the movie so much easier than if it was straight up a depressing film about the crash. I definitive agree with you that Carrell was on of the best actors in the film, I was glued to him from the moment he stepped on screen. I really do hope he continues to do these types of films, after this and Foxcatcher I'm really digging his drama.

    1. I think you pretty much proved me correct with my thoughts in the review Cody, although obviously small sample size haha. The more I sat on this one and thought about it, the more I recognized that telling an important and rather sad story with comedy and celebrity cameos and all that might be brilliant. It is hard to get people to focus on doom and sadness based on reality, something they actually experienced, so if it took being funny and ridiculous and throwing in beautiful people to explain economics to us, by all means. Pretty damn smart film, glad you enjoyed.

    2. really well done! I thought this would be a hard review to write too but I was going to use the same quote you had at the top! and my dad was truly shocked by the fact that the higher the unemployment rate the more people die! We live in Canada so I told him people don't get to go to the hospital for free there like we do , and homelessness and suicide are a big part too! Steve Carell's backstory broke my heart !