Victoria Jelinek

The Big Short

the-big-short-movie-posters-001.jpg~originalFour outsiders foresaw the global collapse of the economy years before 2008. Something big banks, the media, and governments refused to consider. So these four made a bold investment – The Big Short – that led to huge profits for each of them even as they had to negotiate the dark underbelly of modern banking in order to get the boon.
There are three things that made me skeptical about watching this film: the lingo, the bizarre identifying traits for each of the main characters, and the concern that those who watch this film are those who already know about the perverse exploitation that constitutes modern banking.

The lingo is hard to understand for those of us outside of the banking world. However, Director McKay breaks the fourth wall down and introduces celebrity cameos to directly address the audience with colorful and cogent explanations of terms, which does help and also amuses.

McKay is best known for comedic fare, such as Anchorman and The Campaign, but one can see that even in the silly humor of these films, there’s a sly intelligence underling and animating them. And he infuses the script for The Big Short with a profanely witty dialogue.

While arguably he creates the character’s bizarre defining traits to show the types of brazen personalities that thrive in this environment, I believe it’s more evidence of his humor in the midst of sobering material. Bale lacks any social grace, rocks out to heavy metal music to get his brain up to speed, and sports a glass eye. Gosling is a typical douchebag banker, spray tanned, arrogant, and slick. Pitt is the former banker gone rogue, all shaggy, bearded, talking about intestinal health and the need to prepare for the end of the world. These are humorous elements that make these men characters, but don’t be fooled for a minute that any of it’s silly or distracting. There is committed and accomplished acting going on. These performances are what make The Big Short especially enjoyable. Carrell, however, is the heart of the film, delivering another impressive turn after surprising audiences and critics alike with his performance in last year’s Foxcatcher.

The ensemble cast superbly conveys the angry, pessimistic conviction driving this film, which is the argument that major banks all engaged in fraudulent, criminal activity leading to the 2008 collapse, and governments bailed them out at the expense of “the average Joe.” And there’s no reason big banks wouldn’t do it again – why shouldn’t they? We’re the assholes who let them get away with financial murder. Which brings me to the third concern I had before watching The Big Short. That those attracted to watching this movie will already be those who understand the situation. It won’t reach the folks who refuse to see what went on and continues to go on in large banking and global politics. Well, so be it. At least there are smart films created by thoughtful and critical people, for some of us to enjoy.


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