An important and entertaining film, albeit one which doesn’t quite deliver as it should…
The Big Short aims high. It looks to make a smart, darkly comic film about the financial crash of 2008 which doesn’t patronise its audiences, doesn’t ignore the devastating affects of that disaster and yet which is also funny and entertaining. It’s hard to make financial talk interesting, especially so when it occupies 95% of the scenes of your movie and when it’s high level, complex terminology which has to be imparted to the audience. Given that, the cast and crew deserve a lot of praise for making this understandable, and engaging. The film employs a lot of different methods of explaining what’s going on from straight up telling you, to having Ryan Gosling’s narrator character make light of what’s going on with jokes and an irreverent attitude, a technique that has more than a few shades of DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort (The Wolf of Wall Street) to it. They even try cutting away to Margot Robbie in a bubble bath to explain key details to you in one of several celebrity cameos that vary between humorous and awkward.
The film’s strength lies in its performances; everyone does well here with the standout role being Steve Carell’s tortured and ethically conflicted Mark Baum who detests the environment he is in and knows the pain that is going to be inflicted upon the public when the housing market collapses and yet can see no way of influencing events other than to make a quick buck betting against the system. The other performer who is truly compelling here is Christian Bale who plays the perceptive individual who sees what no one else is willing to see about the inevitable and approaching doomsday and first decides to short the market. He gives a dedicated and intense performance that ranks with some of his best work, even if his character falls by the wayside for a lot of the film.
The film is intelligent, funny and has a moral conscience, in many ways its the film we have been looking for regarding the housing disaster. Unfortunately though it feels rather like a diamond in the rough because as good as its intentions are it too often comes across as smug, a little patronising at times and its focus is undefined. Is it a dark comedy, a think piece or a condemnation of the system and everyone in it? It wants to be all three, and that is the movie I wanted to see, but despite coming very close the tone is often a little off, the script muddled and it consequently doesn’t have the staying power and dramatic impact that it should do. See it for its performances but this feels like a precursor to a great film as we still struggle to figure out how to talk about 2008.
The Big Short opens in UK cinemas today (22nd January), are you going to be checking it out? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below!