THE BIG SHORT is a Crash Course in the Great Recession – Movie Review
In his 2010 film The Other Guys, writer/director Adam McKay masked his disgust with the Great Recession and the financial industry in a Will Ferrell comedy. The end credits even came with nifty infographics explaining just how bad greed has gotten in the corporate world.
The message didn’t take. Nobody goes to a Will Ferrell movie looking to learn a lesson. They want to laugh. McKay refused to give up, and now he’s back with The Big Short, a more serious take on the financial meltdown of 2008 based on the book by Michael Lewis, of Moneyball fame.
Using an ensemble of A-list talent including Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, The Big Short is the true-life tale of America’s economic downfall at the end of the George W. Bush era, and the select few who saw the collapse coming and made out like bandits in the process. The groups rarely overlap, but each brings a decidedly different point-of-view to the inevitable collapse of the housing market. Carell is the do-gooder, espousing the evils of corporations, Gosling is the slick finance guy looking to make a killing, Bale is a sort of Atlas, having discovered what will happen first, and Pitt is a survivalist, a living embodiment of what may come if everything truly falls apart.
The Big Short is one of those rare message movies that manages to work, despite beating the audience over the head with whatever it has to say. McKay gets all the credit in the world for this, treating The Big Short as some sort of touchstone film that (he hopes) people will revisit for years to come. By smartly editing in short montages of cultural events keeping people’s attention away from the collapse, like Facebook taking off, the film very much has an in the moment, of the times feel that ground the film in reality, so much so that when the inevitable collapse happens and the big wigs do everything possible to cover up the truth, it’s infuriating on a number of levels. Coupled with McKay’s ingenious methods of explaining complex financial data to the audience (Margot Robbie explains finance while in a hot tub? Yes please.), The Big Short is almost entertainment as historical document.
McKay, who’s directed every good Will Ferrell movie from Anchorman to Step Brothers, has never delivered a film so serious and dramatic as The Big Short. Sure, there are moments of humor sprinkled throughout, but for the guy who made Talladega Nights to spread his wings with something like The Big Short, McKay may well prove there’s not only life beyond Will Ferrell, but it’s a pretty exciting one at that.