The Big Short: McKay’s sporadic style is a double-edged sword

This year’s movies are nothing short of innovative and unique. From Anomalisa to Tangerine to Mad Max to The Revenant, if you thought the Birdman/Boyhood/Grand Budapest Hotel of last year was special, think again. The Big Short adds to the repertoire by riding on its own brand and style. It follows the narratives of different sets of characters who were the first to realize that the Sub-Prime Mortgage crises was an imminent reality, and thus took ‘the big short’ by betting that bonds would fail. In a totally different fashion, The Big Short does not resemble any other film about the world of finance and money. It’s also more encompassing while keeping a keen eye on its character’s individual progress. It’s often dizzying camera movements are significant to its themes of frantic economy, conveying the true ‘in the now’ attitude and spirit of Wall Street.

Sometimes it didn’t work as well and I was left feeling like Adam McKay was trying a little too hard. It kind of made some scenes simply rough to watch. Other times, it’s abrupt cuts and zooms portrayed the immediacy and importance of this anxious adrenaline-pumping industry. The Big Short’s humour is also attributed to its filming style. The deliberate pacing of the film, voice-overs, expletives, insults, idiosyncracies of characters all made for a generally humourous film, albeit with some flat moments. Though it was sometimes hard to follow all the finance jargon, which sometimes felt like a online lecture class, The Big Short has succeeded in making comedy out of a crises of the past, while still maintaining serious undertones about our greed and fraudulent ways.

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I loved the second half of the film more than the first. The first half, caught up in all its Wall Street terms and banking vernacular, kind of overwhelmed me with its abstraction. Granted, the film did try to break things down with cut-scenes to Margot Robbie explaining complex economy while sexily soaking in a tub.I was more interested in Margot Robbie! Now that certainly distracted me .

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There were also voice-overs from various characters notably Ryan Gosling who frequently broke the fourth wall and engaged us directly. Ok, interesting. But still, I think the film focused too much on dialogue and terms while neglecting the emotion it tried to generate. Dr. Michael Burry’s (Christian Bale) story about his childhood and his recollection tried to make us sympathetic but did not really connect. We just know that he’s  different and well…he’s just different. What’s your point? The film didn’t really develop our sympathies nor admiration for Burry. Jared Venett (Ryan Gosling) fucntioned merely as a voice that spoke to us. We don’t know his past, motivations, personality etc. The lack of screen time made his character one-dimensional. Ben Rickett (Brad Pitt) was slightly more compelling. He functions as the sort of man who isn’t bound by anything and who has nothing much to lose. But he has too little screen time. But the film’s characterization is saved by Steve Carell. Thankfully.

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He was the only thing that made The Big Short more entertaining and varied. His offbeat humour extends to scenes where you’d expect some level of graveness or seriousness, but Steve Carell has this, I don’t know how to describe it…this subtle aspect which makes the scene unexpectedly funny. Whether it’s giving the ‘What the f***’ face or the face of indignation or annoyance or disbelief, his wall-street character never ceases to amuse and be amused. But he knows when to get really serious and depressed, and the narative about how his has this inner guilt that stems from his past experiences with his deceased brother makes his characterization complete. I really had a good time watching him; He was quite a memorable character in a not so memorabale movie.

The Big Short’s flaws are simply a little too evident to gloss over. I realize that I’m in the minority of film critics who aren’t totally won over by the movie. First of all, I’d like to emphasize its jarring effect and style. It worked in some cases but the abrupt cuts to scenes of Margot Robbie or Selena Gomez who were simply there to act stylish and explain economic jargon in layman terms was too forceful. It wasn’t cool and instead was extremely random. The movie is made even more disjointed when Ryan Gosling served mainly to break the fourth wall and addressed us directly with his ramblings which neither functioned to develop his character nor interest in him.

But overall, if you want to watch a film that, beneath all its black comedy and economic ramblings and boisterous cacophony of frustration and panic, exposes what really happened during the 08′ sub-prime mortgage crises, then The Big Short is quite encompassing. It’s perspective is unique in that you follow the narratives of around 5 sets of characters whose stories rarely explicitly intersect (except for Gosling and Carell), who look to profit off a risky prediction by ‘betting against the US economy.’ Ultimately though, catharsis isn’t found in moral salvation. It’s still about a tale that revolves around people looking to take advantage of the system and profit so you’ll struggle to find the humanity in the story.

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But that really isn’t the point. The Big Short plants itself into the very heart and workings of Wall Street, into the very self-aggrandizing materialistic and fraudulent world of shady big business and even bigger organizations who cover up for them, and tells a tale that will rouse and interest you. I don’t think it will connect as well as it would have liked to, given that the narratives in the film are extremely rare and represent a different class of people; People who actually profited through the financial crises. It does feature talk and statistics of how the depression hurt people and made them lose jobs and homes, but not enough to make it one that’s relatable to the middle-class. Instead of priding itself as one that is synonymous with the experiences of common society, I think The Big Short succeeds in an entirely different way; It satirizes the fraudulent nature of Wall Street with its humour whilst implicitly showing that the effects are borne most heavily and unjustly by the middle-class. It’s not so much a morality play than a joke that should hit purveyors of greed pretty hard. To the collective whose immense greed caused the economy to collapse, this film echoes Mark Baum’s words with all its humourous gusto and emotional flurry , “You’re a big piece of shi*!’

 

Rating: 7/10

 

Images credited to Plan B Entertainment, Regency Enterprises and Paramount Pictures

 

 

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Keith says:

    Find review. I’ve tried but I can’t get myself excited to see it. I definitely will (it’s the only best picture nominee I haven’t seen).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. jwforeva says:

      Good! I wanna hear what you think! It sounds pretty boring at first, but I think it’ll be worth it just for Carell and Bale. But I have to say, it’s very very frantic.

      Like

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