From director Adam McKay whose background is comedy (screenwriting partnership with Will Ferrell) comes the film adaptation of Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, a book about the build-up to the housing and credit bubble during the 2000s.
The formidable cast sets the groundwork for a promising film: Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt and Steve Carell are all lined up. And it is very refreshing to see them face the challenge of portraying characters which are unusual with regard to their resumé: Gosling stars as Jared Vennett, a conceited trader and not a hero for a change, while Carell performs as Mark Baum, an angered and depressed hedge fund manager and Pitt is a fed up banker who grows his own food in his garden. Christian Bale takes the role of Michael Burry, an investor with a glass eye who only feels comfortable with numbers, not with people. The storyline follows these characters as they discover the groundwork for the financial crisis of 2007 and manage to profit enormously from it while millions of people lose their homes and jobs.
At the start of the film one feels completely lost, not only because of the incomprehensible acronyms that have been created by Wall Street, but also because it is not quite clear what kind of a film “The Big Short” wants to be. It is as if the director threw lots of different elements into the mixer and lets you see what you make of it. The film has elements of a documentary sliding into a mockumentary, of comedy, of drama and of MTV. Ryan Gosling starts talking directly into the camera, which is acceptable (as in House Of Cards). Yet suddenly other characters break the fourth wall as well, which is confusing, as some of the main characters (Pitt and Bale) do not. There are cameo appearances of Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie (in a bubblebath) explaining synthetic CDOs and mortgage bonds. Music video clips and random pictures of ducks, homeless people and a dog on an air bed slide into view. To cut it short: It’s a mess.
But as soon as one accepts this hybrid of a film, one realises that the mixture of humour and drama is a perfect portrayal of the ridiculous and absurd events leading up to the credit crisis. Your head needs to be spinning and the outrage of Steve Carell, the sadness of Brad Pitt and the frustration of Christian Bale all perfectly exemplify the emotions one has when realising what really happened and how ruthless people can be. Amidst the chaos the viewer will enjoy a lot of intelligently placed symbolism. The employee of Standard & Poor’s having difficulty with her eyesight thus needing to wear thick black glasses is a nice touch. And Michael Burry who has a glass eye is the first to recognise and invest in the impending crisis — only in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.
Written by Jesse Lieberman