The Big Short, director Adam McKay’s film based on author Michael Lewis’ book chronicling several outlying investors who were able to predict the 2007 financial crisis and profit from it, is truly next level. The screenplay, the directing, the acting, the editing, everything in the film fires on all cylinders. I had no intention of enjoying a movie that for all intents and purposes appears to be about a bunch of rich white guys shuffling money to and fro, but when a film is this well made you really don’t have a say in the matter
The Big Short is at varying points a gut-wrenching drama, a side-splitting comedy, something of a documentary and just a straight up economics lecture. It morphs seamlessly in and out of fiction and in and out of comedy due in no small part to the often breakneck editing that keeps the film moving forward at a brisk pace.
Further smoothing out what could have been an extremely disjointed movie are the performances. Ryan Gosling in particular is able to move from narrator to character to lecturer with ease. The standout performance, however, is Steve Carell, who serves as the film’s beating heart buried deep inside the sterile, artificial organs of finance. He’s the closest thing to an audience stand-in there is in a world packed full of jargon and doublespeak. Even when it’s difficult to understand the specifics of what is happening Carell’s acting is able to communicate the necessary information.
But even Carell, bleeding heart and all, is no hero. The Big Short is a movie about dudes making money off of an economic collapse brought on by greedy, ignorant people selling empty promises to folks who didn’t know any better.
There are no heroes in The Big Short. Arguably, there’s nothing but varying degrees of antagonism. And worse still, as you may know from being alive in the world, there is no resolution. No retribution or justice. In that sense The Big Short is something of a two act story: the set up of the inciting incident, the execution of the inciting indigent and that’s it.
There’s a question mark shaped hole where a protagonist should be, and that isn’t creative license.
The Big Short is hilarious and poignant and smart but above all else it is utterly disillusioning. It’ll make you feel hopeless and small and angry. But it’ll also help you understand the most devastating economic event of our time and, most importantly, it might just inspire you to look at the shit show of financial and economic authority with a healthy and well-earned distrust.