TWIM Reviews: The Big Short

THE BIG SHORT (Paramount)

Dir. Adam McKay, Script. Charles Randolph & Adam McKay

Cast: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt

Plot: A group of Wall Street outsiders realise that the economy is on the brink of collapse.

What makes a Best Picture winner? Obviously the film has to be very good, one of the year’s best, but what specifically sets a Best Picture winner apart from the rest? Is it innovative production and storytelling? Is it transformative performances? Is it just all behind-the-scenes campaigning and dirt throwing? With this year’s Oscar race being the most open in years, these are the types of things that it’ll all come down to in the end. I’ve had a lot of time to meditate on this, and I believe that a movie deserving of Best Picture has to be immediate – it has to feel of the time, tapping into the cultural zeitgeist: a film that matters. Allow me to introduce The Big Short.

Big Short 1RYAN GOSLING IS TOLD THAT HE WILL HAVE TO HAVE CEREAL TOMORROW MORNING

Now I’m not saying that this movie is going to win (although winning the PGA Award on Sunday will help), but it feels massively important. The Big Short attempts, through a star-studded cast, to make sense and humour out of the mid-2000s financial crash and the corrupt banking that led to that – making a comedy-drama from banking jargon is a challenge not many would envy. However Adam McKay, more acclimatized to Will Ferrell comedies than serious subject matter, has somehow managed to make The Big Short feel of the moment and immediate, explaining clearly and comedically something of continuing relevance today.

That’s not to say The Big Short is a great film. There’s a few inconsistencies, mainly in the movie’s interesting style: the inclusion of fourth-wall breaks often works fantastically, but sometimes these breaks can feel clunky, ruining the flow of otherwise good scenes. McKay’s inexperience sometimes comes through – his use of handheld camerawork and zoom sometimes benefits scenes, but in other cases merely adds a distraction to very strong dialogue. But despite these things, I believe that The Big Short, if it were to win on Oscars Night, would be a worthy victor.

Big Short 2STEVE CARELL IS HILARIOUSLY FRUSTRATED AS A HEDGE FUND MANAGER ANNOYED WITH THE SYSTEM

For one, this screenplay is the best of the year. Charles Randolph and McKay have created an acerbic, quirky and incredibly witty screenplay that is not only hilarious as a comedy, but serious and cutting when it needs to be. The Big Short‘s characters are so vivid you’d think you’ve known them since Year 3: Steve Carell’s cynical and angry hedge fund manager and Ryan Gosling’s arrogant investment banker in particular are incredibly memorable, and both get the best lines of a golden screenplay. The financial jargon, which is dealt with in obsessive detail, is explained logically but hilariously, thanks to a brilliant idea to have celebrities randomly pop up to explain them.

Big Short 4THE BIG SHORT STANDS OUT FOR IT’S FOURTH-WALL BREAKS AND ENTERTAINING JARGON BUSTING

It’s thanks to these cameos, as well as occasional definitions popping up on screen, that make The Big Short incredibly easy to follow despite the complexity and snore-inducing nature of mortgages. A scene in which the faulty nature of the housing market is explained through a Jenga tower is absolutely fantastic. Gosling, having swept into Carell’s office with an offer he can’t refuse, has a swagger about him that makes him simply hilarious; Gosling has again shown why he is one of the most underrated actors working today. Steve Carell is also fantastic, proving his Academy-nominated role in Foxcatcher last year was no fluke.

But the real star might be Christian Bale, who shines in the role of a socially-inept investor who is first to realize the housing market is going to topple over. Although he’s kept separate from the main action, Bale is absolutely tremendous throughout – you totally buy Michael Burry as a character. Also, this movie is so packed full of stuff that Brad Pitt is one of the more understated elements of this film – Pitt doesn’t appear too much, but when he does is a scene-stealer. Technical aspects are very good -the editors should be locked on for an Oscar.

Big Short 3CHRISTIAN BALE IS ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATED FOR HIS ROLE AS A SOCIALLY AWKWARD NUMBER CRUNCHER

What I have to say is that The Big Short is not the best movie of this year by any means. There are inconsistencies, there are flaws. But The Big Short dares to matter. While it doesn’t get to the levels that The Revenant and Room have this year, neither of those films can hold anything up to the level of relevance this thing has. McKay has made, above all else, a film that advocates a relevant message in a highly entertaining way, and although he surrenders to heavy bias in his depiction of the financial crisis, he and his actors have created a superbly immediate film that needs to be seen.

RATING: 3.5/4

James Stephenson

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