If you thought writer-director Adam McKay (Anchorman, Step Brothers) had little more to offer audiences than stupid-smart comedies, think again, because this at-once hysterical and infuriating black comedy is more enjoyable than any movie about the financial crisis has any reasonable right to be.
Before the 2007-2010 financial crisis took hold, a small number of “weirdos” (as the movie calls them) saw the crash coming; in 2005, hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) predicted the crash of the U.S. housing market and bet against it; investor Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and Mark Baum (Steve Carell) discovered the impending collapse and also attempted to profit from the banks’ gross negligence; and young investors Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) teamed with former banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to make their own millions.
If films made in the wake of the collapse such as the 2010 documentary Inside Job and 2011’s docu-drama Margin Call have done a rigorous job of detailing the ins-and-outs of the crisis, The Big Short is much more interested in unspooling the intentionally complex industry buzz-words for as large an audience as possible. Aided by a number of hilariously unexpected celebrity cameos to explain the terminology and concepts through more relatable means, the film does a terrific job de-mystifying the meltdown, and still manages to be outrageously entertaining as it does so.
McKay’s constant meta-flourishes wink at the audience without getting obnoxious, though it’s the cast who truly earn their spurs here; Bale, Gosling and Carell in particular are all magnificent as likable yet sometimes difficult characters who are nevertheless easy guys to root for. Smartly, McKay never forgets the soupy morality of the situation either, for these men are all of course profiting off the inevitable ruined lives of millions of people, and despite the horrifying white-collar crime on display, almost all bankers guilty of fraud were never held accountable for their crimes.
As much a modern-day horror film as it is a howling comedy, The Big Short distills the recent financial disaster into dense but digestible chunks, aided by one of the year’s best ensembles and sure proof that McKay has more to offer us in the future than (admittedly hilarious) man-children.
The Big Short is in US cinemas now and UK cinemas January 22nd