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The Big Short - Film Review

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
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McKay's money drama soars with success and bleeds brilliance
Big Short, Carell, Gosling, Pitt, Bale, Oscars
Theatrical Release Poster (image courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Films of finance and money managers have broken new ground in recent years with the likes of Margin Call [2008] and The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]; but a new kind of financial drama is round the bend and launching the loot-based broker picture to new heights with Adam McKay's The Big Short.

A three-way biographical account of how certain people at the heart of America's banking industry forecasted the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and profited greatly from it, Adam McKay (of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy [2003] and Step Brothers [2008] fame) has co-written this script with Charles Randolph (Love & Other Drugs [2010]), based on Michael Lewis' book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, published in 2010. In what could be considered McKay's first real venture into serious filmmaking, The Big Short boasts fantastic performances from a rock-solid round-up of players, including Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, and especially Brad Pitt, in a very reserved, moralistic and matured role - it's a shame he doesn't have more screen time.

McKay manages to make boring subject matter interesting, satirical, mischievous and even thought-provoking, as our supposed 'heroes' are challenged to re-examine their values and their integrity. But where this film separates itself from others of its kind is its transparency. We are let in on some of the circumstantial inaccuracies, mostly through Gosling's very candid and cool narration. Characters frequently break the fourth wall, providing 'spark notes summaries' and creative metaphors to help decode and paraphrase all the economic jargon; a wonderfully fresh and focal method of exposition in order to maintain comprehension and interest.

Carell, Gosling, Bale, Pitt, Oscars, Big Short
Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt all give strong performances.

With relatively but deliberately unstable cinematography from Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker [2008], Captain Philips [2013]), it has a tremendous sense of edginess and enigmatic energy, propelled by the powerhouse performances of the ensemble cast; Carell in particular. With freeze frames, a fragmented narrative, and frantic editing style, it bounces from scene to scene as it fields cynical humour, dramatic weight, and socio-economic commentary in beautiful proportion. Director McKay expertly places the main characters in the position of the audience - they can do nothing but sit and watch what happens (or is about to happen) before them.

Our supposed heroes may stand to become financially rich, but ultimately morally bankrupt as these select few stand victorious over thousands who lose houses, jobs, and their lives.  Viewers are challenged to consider "Would I not do the same thing?' The interest in this story and these characters isn't in the where the story concludes, because it's known and predictable; the interest lies in the journey, as this mixed bag of stake holders navigate and wrestle with their own values in amidst the madness of the money market.

Big Short, Carell, Gosling, Pitt, Bale, Oscars
Michael Lewis' book, 'The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine' - the source for the story.

An insightful and eye-opening investigation of accountability and moral responsibility, this powerful picture is easily the best effort of McKay's career to date.  It'll be a tough one to top; both in terms of his career and the upcoming Golden Globe Awards (and perhaps the Academy Awards).  A high recommendation, The Big Short is one of the most important films of this century thus far.
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Why? One of the most important films of the 21st Century thus far.
Where: Your local cinema
Cost: Check your local cinema for details
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