About ten years ago there was an experiment carried out to see how well one could reasonably bet on the stock market. Over a period of months, the subjects would invest in the stock market, and the test would track who made the most. Among the test subjects were a man who taught economics, a highly respected investments consultant, a banker, and a four year old girl who picked her investments out of a hat. The girl won by millions upon millions of dollars, of course.
This is how mind-bendingly stupid the world of banking is. Words like sub-prime, securitisation and quantitative easing float through the ether like they actually mean anything even though it’s clearly the ramblings of a coked up lunatic. In these circumstances, how could one NOT make their story about the financial crash of 2008 not so tongue in cheek that the cheek looks inflated?
It seems odd to say about something as boring as banking, but The Big Short is an extremely funny film, using humour to strip away the layers of complexity of the subject matter and show it for the chicanery and farce it really is. In a brilliantly weird twist, almost all of the characters in the film are aware of the audience, constantly breaking the fourth wall to tell the audience to clarify certain points or to cut to a celebrity who explains their lingo in layman’s terms.
The only time that the laughs stop coming is at the end, when both the audience and the characters realise that the fun little money-making romp that they’ve embarked on resulted in millions of people losing their homes. It’s a gut-punch most films couldn’t recover from, and The Big Short is forced to gloss over this period to an extent out of sheer awkwardness, which does rob the film of some of its potential weight, though at least it attempted.
As well as the film breaks down the complexities of the subject matter, it can let the complexity of the story run away from it at times. There are three disparate factions in the film, which with their own internal dynamics and conflicts that you need to watch out for, and the characters go through their own arcs, and none of them ever meet. It’s only at one point in the film where two of these factions are in the same city. This is not a film to be watched out of the corner of your eye; jot down notes, there will be a test.
Visually, the film is quite ho-hum. It uses filming techniques that wouldn’t be too out of place in a Youtube video or an Adam Curtis documentary, cutting away from the action to music videos or still images to illustrate the point further, and always running with an ongoing commentary. It makes for a unique but not particularly exciting looking film. This can’t be said for the soundtrack, though, which is as eclectic as it is flat out awesome. I now desperately want to work at Christian Bale’s office; Metallica all day every day.
The acting across the board is fantastic as well. Particular highlights include the aforementioned Bale, who is awkward and uncomfortable to look at for no discernable reason (and he also plays a character like that HURR HURR I’M FUNNY) which makes you see why no one will believe him when he discovers the existence of the bubble, and Steve Carell doing his best Gilbert Gottfried impression and showing the psychological weight that just a ruthless industry can put on morality. He comes out of the film broken, and you see every crack.
Overall, The Big Short might have had stiff competition at the Oscars, but there are so many parts that make you shout “Why didn’t this win?” It is mostly certainly not a film you can sit down with some friends and break out the popcorn; this is a film that you have to watch alone, half-drunk and feeling guilty. Thank goodness it’s not as stupid as its subject matter.
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