Directed by: Adam McKay || Produced by: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Arnon Milchan, Brad Pitt
Screenplay by: Adam McKay, Charles Randolph || Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Hamish Linklater, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo
Music by: Nicholas Britell || Cinematography by: Barry Ackroyd || Edited by: Hank Corwin || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Instead of giving the time of day to what may be the most overrated film of 2015 in Spotlight (2015), I recommend viewers instead check out Adam McKay’s first foray into “serious” dramatic film and his first project without Will Ferrell, The Big Short. I like to think of TBS as a sort of fictionalized, narrative version of Inside Job (2010), the similarly overrated documentary that detailed the exact same subject matter of TBS: The housing mortgage bubble that eventually lead to the 2008 global financial crises. Those two films, IJ and TBS, represent a fascinating case study of two different styles of cinema, narrative and documentary, covering the exact same material and yet achieving drastically different cinematic results. I bet you’re wondering which version I preferred. I bet you can’t wait.
TBS is not only much more entertaining than its documentary counterpart (as well as the critical darling that is Spotlight), but it’s also far more cinematic and creative. Its style screams Martin Scorsese’s eclectic, eccentric New Wave influence, including numerous characters breaking the fourth wall, freeze-frames, countless voiceovers, and ambitious criminal characters. Other than the subject matter of investment banking and Wall Street in general, the film even features The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) costar Margot Robbie, as well as numerous other celebrities starring as themselves, who show up for brief cameos to explain the hopelessly complex and unnecessary economic lingo crucial to understanding TBS‘ thesis. This movie is not as smoothly paced nor as memorable as TWOWS from a performance or setpiece standpoint, but its cinematography, personality, and overall directorial style come across as honorable homages rather than ripoffs or failed creativity. Regardless, I applaud TBS for at least trying something different with the material. It’s funny and entertaining, despite being entirely about otherwise mind-numbing, sleep-inducing investment banking. I say, bravo, McKay, bravo.
TBS also achieves the critical tone of not taking itself too seriously, despite the close-to-home subject matter. It lets the reality of recent events speak for itself, and spends much of its energy attempting to find the comedy in the equation that is Tragedy + Time = Comedy. It finds that comedy easily in the ridiculousness of its tragedy and the personality of its performances; castmembers, both big names and small, bring energy and charisma to this wild tale. The film doesn’t preach, in other words, which is refreshing considering the ease with which TBS could’ve sunk into self-righteous whining.
The main thing holding TBS back is its length. It’s not a terribly huge film given how long American movies have become in the past decade, but allotting 130 minutes for what is essentially a snarky Wall Street takedown is overindulgent. This is the biggest difference between TBS and a film like TWOWS. Scorsese’s three hour comedy is filled to the brim with constant energy, emotion, and ridiculous setpieces that keep your eyes glued to the screen, where as TBS starts to run out of gas before it hits its two hour mark. With the exception of true auteurs like Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, or David Fincher, I’m not sure how filmmakers these days are allowed to make Transformers: Age of Extinction (2013), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), or Spectre (2015) into 2.5 hour+ affairs, and now even small indie films like Spotlight and TBS are ballooned to over two hours as well. These films do not have to be that long! You’d think studios would be into cutting productions costs, for God’s sake.
With all that said, I’d much rather people see an artificially extended comedy like The Big Short over Spotlight or numerous other Oscar-bait films or self-promoting indie features. It’s got personality, maturity, and perspective, which is more than Boyhood (2014) ever had. It’s no Wolf of Wall Street, but it ain’t no Lunchbox (2013) either. OK, that’s enough shitting on boring indie movies. I’m good now.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: The Big Short breaks down the bassackwards logic of the 2008 financial crises with tenacious humor and smart satire, using a variety of New Wave filmmaking techniques and an eclectic soundtrack to great effect. Carrell, Bale, and Gosling lead a great ensemble cast free of any limited protagonist’s perspective. It was a risky move for this film to forgo a “heroic center,” but it was the right one.
— However… The Big Short is approximately 30 minutes longer than it should have been. The film could’ve and should’ve gone further with its self-reflexive cinematography, embracing more animations and montage sequences where appropriate.
—> ON THE FENCE: Adam McKay could’ve produced something truly special had he followed his comedy instincts over his understandable awards-hungry ambition. As it stands, The Big Short is an effective, entertaining drama about a recent historical event instead of a dramatic retelling that transcends that event, the latter of which was accomplished by Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (2013), for example.
? People follow authority not because it is morally righteous, wise, or correct, but because it is authoritative.
I liked this film quite a bit. The length did not bother me although I agree that it could have been trimmed down a bit. Bale and Carrell both give very solid performances. I enjoyed reading your review. Well done.
Thanks for the comment, and I’m glad the movie sailed a bit smoother for you. I only wish the average American comedy was written and directed like this and not the ‘lightly edited improv’ you see in most big, broad LOL films.
Haven’t seen the film yet, but from what I’ve read about the book it’s based on, I think preaching was probably the last thing on the directors mind. If you think about the subject matter, it’s morally ambiguous (someone sees a financial disaster coming, warnings aren’t heeded so those doing the warning decide to take advantage of said disaster), and moral ambiguity doesn’t lend itself to preaching.
I think the brilliance of TWOWS was in taking an odious arsehole and almost making him sympathetic. When I get to see it, I’ll be interested to see how the individuals in The Big Short come across.
It definitely doesn’t hold up in comparison to Wolf, and its subject matter feels repetitive given how overdone this material has become (e.g. Inside Job), but I thought it was one of the better artistic analyses of one of the more important socioeconomic events in recent years. Unlike, say, Spotlight.
I watched it over two nights, so was glad of the two hour length!
My initial comment about preaching came right; I did root for Mark Baum in spite of what he was doing and that’s kudos to the director, scriptwriter and actor for letting me make up my own mind. In fact, after 2008, and losing my job as a result of the financial fallout, I would happily have hung every last investment banker from a burning streetlight, but I still didn’t feel animosity towards Bale or Carells’ characters.
I suppose it was because they were made human by the script, and it’s essential that both heroes and villains are three dimensional, leaving the viewer to draw their own conclusions. )What I did find depressing was the footnote at the end of the film which said CDOs were back, but with a different name.)