The Big Short is currently available as a Netflix streaming option and I find myself watching it in bits and pieces on a nearly weekly basis. It’s absolutely fantastic. With stunning clarity considering the density of the material and the tendency for excessive jargon, Adam McKay’s phenomenally entertaining dramatization of the 2008 financial collapse shouldn’t be entertaining but it is. All kidding aside, this is a massively disturbing film that details how a group of people got extremely rich while so many were going totally bust, but because of McKay’s zesty filmmaking style, the narrative never gets bogged down in hard-to-understand plotting or surrounded by characters who we can’t relate to. This is an ensemble in the truest sense of the word, with each major actor doing excellent and generous work, with each performance feeding into the next, which helps to create a full blown tapestry of men pushed to their limits.
Christian Bale is low-key awesome here, totally introverted as a genius money man, getting the chance for a number of quietly stellar moments. Steve Carrell is the angry conscience of the piece, representing the frustrations of the common person while also seeing the inner workings of a corrupt system, and after his brilliant work in Foxcatcher, his work here represents another dramatic homerun for him as a dramatic actor. Ryan Gosling is the amoral trickster, and he’s pure energy and comic fizz, getting the film’s single biggest laugh during a small tour de force sequence inside of a men’s room, while Brad Pitt steals scenes as the sagacious insider who has become an outsider.
All of the familiar faces in the deep supporting cast are terrific, and everyone is used to maximum effect via the long lens cinematography by Barry Ackroyd (United 93, The Hurt Locker, The Wind that Shakes the Barley), who brings his customarily jittery shooting style to the proceedings, always searching and grasping for off the cuff moments, which appropriately sets the tense mood. When combined with the judicious and extremely sharp editing by Hank Corwin (Natural Born Killers, The Tree of Life, The New World), it’s no surprise that the film keeps the pace of a rushing locomotive, yet never at the expense of coherence or intelligence.
The numerous instances of the breaking of the fourth wall are smart and well timed, hilariously using real life celebrities in an effort to help the audience better understand some of the more shadowy and arcane bits of information. McKay took a HUGE step up with this film as a storyteller and filmmaker, after repeatedly proving to be one of the best directors of studio comedies over the last 15 years (his blockbuster resume includes Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys).
Review by Nick Clement