Adam McKay has made a nice living partnering with Will Ferrell– all five of his directorial efforts have featured the former SNLer, including both Anchorman films. While McKay’s films are among the funnier offerings of the past decade, none would be considered a serious or smart effort, so it was with a bit of an arched eyebrow that I watched McKay’s latest, The Big Short.
Based on the 2010 bestseller by Michael Lewis, the film examines the mid-00s financial crisis–not exactly the stuff of Ricky Bobby or Dale Doback. But it wasn’t long that my eyebrow returned to its resting position as I realized that McKay may well be one of the more creative and noteworthy directors at work today.
Sure, the idea of sitting down to watch a jargon-filled look at the housing bubble may sound as appealing as filing your toenails, but dammit if McKay (who also co-wrote the screenplay) didn’t craft one of the more memorable films of the year. It’s a quirky, expertly-crafted, rapid-fire hybrid of The Wolf of Wall Street and Ocean’s Eleven, fueled by a powerhouse cast, including Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, and Ryan Gosling.
Bale is Michael Burry, the hedge fund manager who figured out the housing market was going to collapse years before it happened. More importantly he figured out a way to profit off of it. Eventually his analysis (and plan) caught the eye of investor Jared Vennett (Gosling), who talked trader Mark Baum (Carrel) into coming along for the ride, too.
There’s no shortage of insider lingo tossed around in The Big Short, and it would have been very easy for the script to spiral into an unintelligible morass of financial concepts and buzzwords. But McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph (Love & Other Drugs) wisely realized that the vast majority of their audience don’t know a CDO from a IPO, and they went out of their way to make the sandpaper-dry subject matter not only interesting but riveting (and understandable). Using a series of hilarious, fourth wall-breaking cameos (no spoilers from me!), the ins and outs of Wall Street are explained enough to make The Big Short work… and work well.
If the subject matter weren’t so maddening (we watch as countless fat cats ignore all the warning signs and then purposely defraud the American people) and heartbreaking (we see innocent, hardworking people get shafted by those same fat cats), The Big Short would be a hilarious, unbelievable piece of fiction. But since we all lived through it, it’s a poignant and scathing indictment of the country’s financial system… though no less hilarious and unbelievable.