Director Adam McKay isn’t the first person you’d expect to cover the housing bubble crisis that happened nearly a decade ago. McKay, known for Will Ferrell vehicles like Anchorman or Talladega Nights, has yet to go into full blown dramatic in his directorial career. The most dramatic scene in any of his films involved Ferrell putting his testicles on John C. Reilly’s drum set in Step Brothers. Oddly enough, the testicles on the drum set scene serves as an appropriate metaphor for the actions of The Big Short‘s major characters; brazenly putting their position out on the table to the confusion and anger of everyone but themselves. Both are equally ridiculous, yet one is based within true events that screwed over our economy. It only seems appropriate that Christian Bale’s character plays drums throughout the film.
The Big Short is definitely based on a true story. A true story we’re all aware of, but don’t potentially know the full details of. However, unlike most films based on a true story, McKay not only knows that his film is an artificial recreation but satirically jabs at it constantly by breaking the fourth wall. He literally breaks the fourth wall to have characters talking about their true actions in the real life situations vs. their actions in the film. McKay even puts his experience as a co-creator of FunnyOrDie to use by having inserts of celebrities explaining the specifics of bonds and loans directly to the audience. It’s obviously jarring, but at the same time brings home the theme of people being distracted by popular culture to notice the back door shenanigans of bankers and others in power in a darkly satiric way that permeate the entire film. That being said, the amount of exposition thrown at us can be more than a bit daunting and even confusing, which isn’t helped by McKay’s kinetic montage editing decisions that transition between certain scenes, which give The Big Short occasional bouts of sensory overload.
Despite all the jargon, Adam McKay’s improvisational attitude towards filmmaking also comes to light with the performances featured here. Steve Carell, who often stole the show as Brick Tamland in McKay’s Anchorman films, brings that same dedication to character here, but with more nuance than a man who suddenly has a grenade. Although exaggerated, Carell’s performance embodies that of a man soaked in a soul sucking business. Like the American public, he’s distracting himself with smaller details up until he starts to see the light and tries to make sense of it. The same goes for the paranoid Brad Pitt, the unflappably confident Ryan Gosling or (my personal favorite) the frankly defiant Christian Bale. None of them are true heroes of the story and are quite frank about that. It doesn’t make them endearing, but instead makes them fascinating characters. They see the end coming nigh and ride the broken system into the ground for all it’s worth. In that way, The Big Short is sort of the Dr. Strangelove for the housing crisis. A satiric indictment that laughs at the true ridiculousness of all that’s transpired, but with a committed dark edge.
Rating: 4 out of 5 fraudlent loans