By Christian DiMartino
Wall Street movies have always been a tough sell for me. Actually, not to sound childish, but Wall Street in general is boring. What with all of its terminology and the way things flow… damn, I sound like a neanderthal. But either way, going into Adam McKay’s The Big Short, I was both excited and afraid.
Excited because, well, look at that cast. Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomeii, Melissa Leo. What can go wrong? In a year in which big casts fell on their fat ones (Aloha, and even though I haven’t seen the latter, I hear that Love the Coopers and Rock the Kasbah were less than spectacular), The Big Short is something of a miracle.
Yes, I admit that, for some of the time, I understood this movie as well as Chemistry class. Which is, not at all. But this is a Wall Street-ish movie that knows what it is. Its confidence is something to admire, and luckily they try their best to spell it out for us.
So, what is it about? Well, do you remember the financial crisis of 2008? Well, I don’t, and that ties back to that my schpeel about “not caring about Wall Street” thing. Regardless, this film pulls you in from its opening scene.
The film begins in 2005, and it leads up to 2008, when everything went to hell. But the story (this is based off of a book by Michael Lewis of Moneyball) mostly centers on the people who saw it coming. One of them is Michael Burry (Bale), a one-eyed, soft-spoken man.
Then there’s Mark Baum (Carell), a somewhat angry man. Then there’s Jared Vennett (Gosling), who serves as sort of the narrator. Speaking of the narration, the narration is kind of ingenious. Sort of like Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, the characters interact with the audience. But McKay tries something unique here: he knows that people like me are out there, and so here and there a celebrity will cameo and spell it out for us. Thank you for that.
This is one of the sharpest screenplays of the year. A screenplay so sharp that I almost couldn’t grab hold of it, but I cannot help but admire what McKay tried here. McKay’s filmmaking also has a great energy to it. I honestly didn’t know he had it in him.
I say that because his career has consisted of Will Ferrell comedies, such as Anchorman and Talladega Nights. This sort of makes sense, considering there are a great many funny moments here. But yet there is an underlying tragedy here that is unshakable.
Especially in the final act, it is somewhat devastating to see the world crumble around these characters, even if we know the outcome. And luckily, we have such great actors selling the pain. Bale, one of the finest actors we have, has never really been known to be a gentle, but what he does here is kind of wonderful. Surprisingly though, this is Carell’s show, even though Gosling brings a decent amount of the comedy.
This is a very good film, and I truly blame myself for not calling it a great one. For my money, I prefer The Wolf of Wall Street. But this is still among the year’s best.