If you don’t know who Adam McKay is, where have you been throughout the 2000’s? After writing for Saturday Night Live in the 90’s, McKay went on to direct and co-write little comedies such as Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and both Anchorman films. Basically, if it was a comedy that had Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and/or Steve Carell, it was probably an Adam McKay production (or Judd Apatow, I confuse the two all the time).
Here, reuniting with only Carell from his usual roster, McKay trades his usual bumbling idiot characters for Wall Street investors and hedge fund managers as he handles the 2008 financial crisis in The Big Short, based on Michael Lewis’ New York Times bestseller The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine.
Are you expecting a laugh-a-minute comedy or a more serious drama about the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression that left thousands jobless and homeless? In what is without a doubt the director’s masterpiece, McKay easily does both in one of the most impressive movies I’ve seen in years, and the first comedy that can truly be taken seriously in lord knows how long.
With an all-star cast, a lightning-fast editing job from Hank Corwin (Natural Born Killers, The Tree of Life), a dynamite script from McKay and Charles Randolph (Love and Other Drugs), and cameramen who toss the camera around like two kids throwing a bouncy ball around the house, The Big Short may be a pain to follow, but the filmmaking is so top-of-the-line that you won’t mind in the slightest.
The Big Short chronicles the men who predicted the collateralized debt obligation bubble (Wall Street sells mortgages as investments, which led to many Americans taking out mortgages they could never pay back) would burst, and they found a way to bet against it.
Got it? Me neither, and that’s a bare-bones plot synopsis. McKay and Randolph are well aware that the common person will be lost in a sea of mortgages and loans and whatever a CDO is, so they treat you like the idiot you are. Definitions pop up on the screen, and characters will stare into the camera to let you know what’s going on.
Because when those characters are talking to each other, it’s time to buckle up and get taught. If your mind drifts for a fraction of a second, you’re screwed. Some creepy guy with a backpack walked in front of the screen, and as I was looking for the nearest exit just in case this tool started shooting up the place, I missed two lines of dialogue and that completely threw me off for the remainder of the scene.
There lies the issue. Should this movie get a pass for the jargon-filled hullabaloo that’s essentially every line of dialogue in this movie? Yes, and that’s thanks to the editing.
Fans of Lubezki’s long shots will be thrilled to know this movie cuts about 30 times a minute, with the camera darting between characters at breakneck speed. I may not have known what the characters were saying, but thanks to that fast-paced editing I was hanging on to those armrests for dear life. Scenes and dialogue exchanges fly by, adding to the confusion but simultaneously keeping my attention.
The performances help with that too as Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and the rest of the cast are clearly having a ball trying to out-douchebag each other. Pitt has the least fun of the bunch with a calm, cool, and collected character with Bale letting his freak flag fly with his nutsy performance.
While it’s a blast to watch these guys be the worst possible people to each other and their associates, the biggest surprise was how McKay and Randolph treated these characters like actual people. If you wonder if these guys were aware of what they were really doing, that’s more than addressed in the film’s emotionally-charged third act. These characters are seen with their own problems as they benefit from the most impactful economic crisis in modern times (even I remember coming home from school to see my pop watching NASDAQ take a dive).
McKay and Randolph could’ve gotten away with letting these jerks do what they do best and nothing more, but they took it an extra step.
And that’s the best way to describe The Big Short. It goes farther than it needs to, giving these robots a sense of humanity and providing an emotional undertone for the audience underneath all the nonsensical fast-talking. Same could be said for Corwin’s snappy editing and the actors who gave it their all. If you didn’t know who Adam McKay was, he’s the guy who brought his comedic talents from Step Brothers and The Other Guys, and applied it to a drastically different environment to make one of the must-see movies of the year.
I still don’t know what a fixed-income is though.