Recently, I had the chance to view “The Big Short”, the 2nd Academy Award-nominated film I have seen this year, and first best picture nominee. Although I chose it over “The Revenant” (mainly because I wasn’t up for all that blood), I wasn’t totally sure what to expect. The world of financial trading is one that I am quite ignorant about and often have very little interest in.
And that’s what makes “The Big Short” such an interesting film. Co-writer and director Adam McKay structures in such a way that makes the audience not only enjoy the film but also understand some of the more complicated Wall Street Jargon. The use of celebrity cameos to explain these terms is an ingenious storytelling device.
It’s hard to imagine the co-creator of comic films such as “Anchorman”, “Step Brothers” and “Talladega Nights” making a film on the collapse of the US financial system, but just like actors, directors also enjoy spreading their wings and expanding their horizons, learning what works and what doesn’t.
The film was a lot funnier than I initially expected it to be. Christian Bale delivers another fantastic performance as the barefoot, heavy metal-listening, number-crunching savant Michael Burry – who also happens to have Aspberger Syndrome and an artificial eye. Steve Carrell sparkles in another dramatic turn as hedge fund manager Mark Baum – based on the real-life Steve Eisman. Gosling is perhaps the most interesting character. Although one could argue that every one on Wall Street were sleazy, slimy capitalist pigs, Gosling’s character is the most sleazy of our main characters – and he does it in a very subtle way. He also serves as the film’s principal narrator.
The film, which is based on the book by Michael Lewis (of Moneyball fame), eschews traditional Hollywood by not having a happy ending. Not that it is sad either, just real. After wondering why their previous calculations aren’t going to plan, both Burry and Baum come to the realization that the entire banking system is corrupt, everything will into itself and no one will be punished. Indeed, almost eight years on, only one small-time trader (a peanuts guy) has served any jail time.
Does the film teach us anything? I suppose that depends on your political perspective. Bernie Sanders loves the film as it does take an anti-corporate stance. I’m sure the Paul Ryans and The Rand Pauls will say the bankers did nothing wrong, the system is what it is. Trump will blame the Mexicans. But at the same time, irrespective of my socialist beliefs, I enjoyed the film for what it is: a piece of art.