THE BIG SHORT
(directed by Adam MacKay, year)
**** (out of 5)
> Best known for his silly Will Farrell comedies, former SNL head writer Adam McKay has pulled off quite a trick here: he took the driest, wonkiest subject imaginable, (arcane banking shenanigans), and crafted from them, a truly compelling film. Certainly, there’s no shortage of drama here, from the meta to the mega- from the scheming investment banks to the family man holding an underwater mortgage.
. It’s the story of the big housing meltdown of 2007 that almost took the nation and the world down the drain to financial ruin. The details are so lurid as to seem unbelievable- even all these years after the fact. The cynical greed and denial behind the whole shameful debacle are Shakespearian in scope.
. The cast is great, which is good, as there really isn’t a standard “protagonist” among them. This, (like SPOTLIGHT), is a true ensemble film where everyone contributes to the heady brew. Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, and Ryan Gosling are all excellent, but Steve Carrell, (who comes the closest to being the lead), continues to amaze with his ability to step completely outside of the TV Daily Show funnyman and demonstrate considerable acting chops. (He is also the only character given much of a private life, in very good scenes with a criminally underutilized Marisa Tomei, where is struggles with the biggest pain in his life- his brother’s suicide.)
. It’s a very stylized affair that uses lots of cultural collage as shorthand to invoke the zeitgeist of the passing historical moment. The invisible “fourth wall” of the audience is breeched repeatedly, as characters turn suddenly and speak directly to us. When the going gets thick, the narration cleverly diverges to little scenes of familiar personalities using metaphor to explain complex dealings- people like Selena Gomez at a blackjack table or Anthony Bourdain in a kitchen. It’s thick indeed, but presented in a breezy tongue-in-cheek way that always keeps us interested and in the loop.
. McKay seems to have done a bang up job adapting the book. The soundtrack is good, punctuated at the end by the perfect Led Zeppelin song to encapsulate the madness of the film: “If it keeps on rainin’ the levee’s gonna break!” As we now, it did- flooding the world in misery while the investment bankers who caused it all got of Scot-free with big fat, (taxpayer subsidized) bonuses as they walked out that revolving door into other lucrative banking jobs. Motherfuckers!
. Another very good film, in a very good year for cinema!
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