"Mortgage backed securities, subprime loans, tranches... Pretty confusing right? Does it make you feel bored? Or stupid? Well, it's supposed to." - Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennett
A film about the 2007 financial crisis is, naturally, bound by long, indecipherable words, phrases and acronyms created by those who want to make it as difficult to understand as possible, a point that Gosling’s Vennett makes pretty clear early on. However, The Big Short is anything but ‘bored’ or ‘stupid’.
When it comes to the majority stockholders of Wall Street’s exclusive stock in, ‘Immorality’, which currently stands at IMM +489%, it begs the question: who really profits in the land of the debaucherous, greedy, and fraudulent?
When you picture the ivy league, ivory tower dwelling button pushers and Dom drunkards of Wall Street it’s difficult to shake the image of orangutans in suits, carrying a superiority complex in the shape of a Delvaux calf-skin Presse Briefcase (pick up your own for a stylish $4,500).
But, while ‘clueless money grabbing apes’ is the image McKay builds of the complete Wall Street population he does so for very purposeful reasons. Although the few who did manage to profit from the financial crash of 2007 are by no means heroes there is an eerie sense of idolisation in McKay’s self-aware screenplay that plays the Wall Street elite against those looking for an easy buck.
Both are morally questionable yet we can’t help but side with those that took the leap and pre-empted the financial crash, profiting big time while everyone else joined the queue at the job fair. Shame on us! I guess Mark Baum’s incensed justice crusade is kind of admirable but that’s a stretch.
But who were the profiteers of this little scheme? Michael Burry (Christian Bale), Mark Baum (Steve Carell), Jared Vennett, Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro). The latter two greatly assisted by Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). I’m not going to begin to try and explain the ins and outs of Burry’s foresight as Margot Robbie’s bathtime cameo (yup, that’s a thing) was all too distracting but I get the gist.
Burry saw that the American housing market was heading for impending doom and sought to profit from another’s loss. While everyone seemed to laugh this socially awkward fund manager out the door, his pockets some $100 million lighter, others paid close attention and soon it was those that were willing to look that saw the opportunity Burry had discovered. Or in the case of Vennett, those that were willing to read between the lines of seemingly contrived water hole bragging.
This is where Ryan Gosling, as Vennett, comes into his own. McKay’s decision to instil Vennett with a sense of freedom to push the boundaries of exposition through ingenius fourth wall breaks makes for inspired comic relief in an otherwise dreary numbers game; and this is where McKay bridges the gap between reality and fiction.
Where other true stories, as depicted on film, tiptoe around the truth, cut corners, or fashion new ‘non-fictions’ without acknowledgement, McKay subverts the norm. Using his comedy chops McKay pokes fun at the inconsistencies by having Vennett point them out in humanising fourth wall breaks. Thus, devoiding the viewer of any doubt concerning the truthfulness of such an important event in the history of global economics.
Credit where it’s due, not many directors could pull that off and McKay certainly has a knack for adaptations that hopefully we’ll get to see more of, the new Bennett Miller perhaps?
The fourth wall breaks are brilliant, as are the cameos and visual presentations (Vennett’s Jenga stunt and Selena Gomez’ blackjack demonstration are particular highlights). But some have criticised these methods as ‘condescending’, ‘belittling’, even ‘arrogant’: there’s just no pleasing some.
Perhaps a little irony in the soundtrack will sort those antagonisers out? Featuring an ecclectic mix from Burry’s heavy metal ‘Mastodon’ downtime to The Pussycat Dolls, Led Zeppelin, Gorillaz, Kelis, and Guns’n’Roses amongst others, the soundtrack always strikes an absurdly fitting chord to complement the matchstick fragility of even the sturdiest of human constructions. I’m looking at you fraudulent mortgage market.
A lot has been said about the ensemble cast of The Big Short. You’ve got Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt as well as cameos from Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez. Some big names, sure, but again McKay proves his dramatic hand by pulling an intriguing stunt. With that much talent on screen it’s tempting to throw them all in together and sometimes that works well, sorry American Hustle not you. But neither Christian Bale or Brad Pitt have any screen time with the other characters. This way McKay is able to tell four very different experiences of the same story and it works incredibly well.
There’s also a pretty great supporting cast of small timers who embrace the roles they’re given and really afford the big boys a little breathing room. Meticulous casting is worthy of the praise and if there was an Academy Award for it Kathy Driscoll and Francine Maisler would be taking home the bacon.
The Big Short, garnering five Oscar nominations including Best Picture, is a meticulous lesson in inventive storytelling, a Must-see for the stand-out performances, incredible screenplay from Charles Randolph and Adam McKay and a subversion of the ‘true story’ adaptation rulebook.
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~ [Remorseful] – “Okay, sell it all.” ~