This is an important film detailing, or attempting to, what led up to and caused the financial crash in America and most of Europe in 2007/08. Focusing on the corruption in the banking sector wherein people had financial incentive, in terms of bonuses, for bankrolling increasingly dubious clients for mortgages, the film delivers a narrative charting events from the point of view of several characters trying to profit from the collapse by spotting what was going to happen and betting against the system – that system being the, until then, rock solid sub-prime mortgage stability.
Curiously, then, we have protagonists that we ought to despise and yet the movie is partly successful in having us want them to succeed, or it is up to a point – Christian Bale’s Michael Burry, and to a lesser extent Steve Carell’s Mark Baum, have us root for them, but the others fall rather flat.
Indeed, I can’t think of another film off the top of my head that is so constantly dragged down by the support work, and a large portion of the blame lies with director Adam McKay, who not only has random camera movements all over the place in an attempt to make it look like he knows what he’s doing, but he also has support characters eat, and chew gum in a really audible way all through the movie.
From a performance point of view, it can be one of the most disgusting things asked of an actor – those who are driven mad by the sound of people eating in the cinema (a sizeable percentage of the population) already have to contend with people treating the place like their own living room, with a never-ending selection of the most irritating and noisy confectionery there is, but now McKay thinks it would be a good idea to put it on the screen in front of them too, where we can not only see and hear it at a high decibel level, but it will actually interfere with the dialogue as well. It’s unbearable, and if you are put off by this notion in any way, then, simply put, I’d advise avoiding this film entirely.
Perhaps this is connected to Brad Pitt? He stars and produces here and is known for his trademark of eating onscreen, but he always manages it in a way that isn’t annoying. His role is reminiscent of his brief and messianic appearance in ‘12 Years a Slave‘, also produced by his company Plan B, as here, after aiding two undesirables to become rich via other people’s gross misfortune, he turns around to berate them for celebrating, telling them that it’s going to mean bitter hardship, homelessness and death for huge swathes of the population, and the others are all ‘hmm, I never thought of it that way ..’.
The dialogue is also problematic – we have several interjections from famous faces such as Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez (and some chef most people have never heard of before and who is really hard to make out), explaining in supposed layman’s terms what all the financial jargon actually means. Initially, this does help, but as the film continues it delves back into a mire of confusion – grasping the initial introductory section is critical to understanding the rest of the film, so try to pay special attention to the first ten minutes or so explaining the history of banking as a business.
Undeservedly nominated for lots of Oscars, including for director McKay which must surely be an aberration, although support nominee Bale is one of the few people that save the film from becoming an acting monstrosity. The film is both poorly crafted and written (despite winning the best adapted screenplay Oscar for McKay and Charles Randolph: their script is based on the 2010 book ‘The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine’ by Michael Lewis), but as a movie attempting to chronicle one of the biggest financial stories of our time it is still one worth paying attention to, maybe just bring earplugs for some of the scenes …