The Big Short (2015) Review: Honest Con
When it comes to Biopics, the underlying conceit is, because it’s a true story, that makes it matter more. There’s a genuine atmosphere that comes with them that makes audiences all the more invested in the narrative. All the work that a piece of fiction has to do to sell itself to an audience is pretty much cut in half with a biopic, since the world we’re seeing is the world we’re in. However, this automatic authenticity might be good for creating tension, but sometimes, it’s a bit disconcerting to know that the things that are happening on screen that seem larger than life, actually happened.
That perfectly describes the discomfort I had watching ‘The Big Short’. Based on the true story of the financial crisis of 2008, ‘The Big Short’ chronicles not just what happened, but follows the lives of a few good men who had the fortune to realize what was happening when it was already too late to stop it. So what did these men do when they were gifted with the knowledge of the oncoming economic turmoil? They took everything they had and made a bet against the then undefeated housing market, and thus “shorted” the US economy.
You might think it’s impossible to root for anyone who would seek to profit off of the misery of millions, and usually you’d be right, but not this time. Instead, ‘The Big Short’ does the brilliant thing of not trying to rationalize the decision, but simply shows it as it was. There never comes a point where the characters are presented as anything other than what they are, which is, simply put, opportunists. With that kind of clear cut honesty, the characters in a way become respectable, which is a point the movie itself makes. Either that or I’m just the worst and you’re a way better person than I am.
The honesty in which the character motivations are presented can also be found with the details of the film. Typically, I expect that biopics or “true stories” take some liberty with the details just for the sake of telling a more cohesive narrative that works for a film adaptation. ‘The Big Short’ is probably the only film that I felt like I could take everything that happened as gospel. This is because when ‘The Big Short’ IS taking liberty with the truth, it lets you know. Characters will turn to the camera and say “Okay so what really happened was-”. On the flip side, when something seems too perfect to be true, a character will go “No really, that happened.”and since these characters have been presented so honestly, you can’t help but take their word for it. It makes any scene where that 4th wall clarification doesn’t happen feel like you can set your skeptic senses to 0.
I have to mention that this movie makes Christian Bale, the man who played Batman, seem like the most socially inept man on the planet. He plays Michael Burry, the man who actually uncovered the information that lit the fuse that was this movie’s narrative, but whose most fascinating aspect comes not from what he did, but rather, who he was. Typically, a movie like this wouldn’t give too much of a damn about what makes these characters tick. It would be perfectly acceptable for these characters to be their professions and nothing else. The movie would do just as good a job with telling the story of what happened. Instead, the movie tells you a little bit about these men, which makes the story all that more engaging.
The other characters in the film are all played fantastically by their actors. Steve Carrell actually has the best role in the film as the hyper angry financier who stopped believing in the system long before there was any evidence to suggest so. Ryan Gosling is the other major character in the film who is pretty much the id of the movie, being a character so transparently sleazy it’s respectable. Even the actors on screen for a single scene like Melissa Leo and Karen Gillian make an impression, but not in the way in which names that big can distract from a narrative, but in a way that actors that big can make a movie feel lived in.
When it comes to the actually telling of the story, the movie takes a page from the movie ‘Moneyball’. Just like that movie, ‘The Big Short’ has a dictionary full of financial jargon that sounds like gibberish to Joe Q. Popcorn, but for me, even though I didn’t understand most of what was said, I got the general gist of the stakes. It’s not the easiest thing to follow, but once you do, the movie moves at such an energetic pace that you can’t help but feel the sense of urgency the film is trying to portray.
Director Adam Mckay is known for his comedic background and for a movie about the financial meltdown that led to a spike in unemployment and homelessness, it’s freaking funny man. In a way, that’s not as far fetched as it sounds. Comedy = Tragedy + Time and the absurdity of the story of a bunch of guys making money off the failure of a system that was never in a million years supposed to fail, sounds like a joke. That being said, there are moments when the characters are faced with the reality of what happens if their bet is successful, and Mckay is successful in balancing these more heartfelt moments.
‘The Big Short’ simply put is a con movie that doesn’t try to pull the wool over your eyes. I can see this movie garnering comparisons to ‘Wolf of Wall Street’, with the tone and the subject matter being so similar, but what ‘The Big Short’does better, is gave me a story I feel like I needed to hear. It never tries to shy away from the seriousness of the thing that happened, yet somehow maintains its sense of comedy. This movie never tries to dumb anything down to you, the dialogue alone makes that clear. It treated me like an adult but never stopped feeling like a really cool movie.
Rating = Big Screen Watch