Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Weirdos of Wall Street

Around a decade ago, banks across the world collapsed. Not many of us really understand the details of what happened, but we all agreed that bankers were to blame and they were bad, bad people. A few filmmakers have tried to explain the events that led us to this conclusion (Margin Call, Inside Job), and trying to join that club is Anchorman director Adam McKay. This is The Big Short.

The Big Short tells three vaguely interlinking stories of bankers who predicted the crash of the housing market and bet against the banks. Firstly, there is Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a millionaire who discovers that banks are using subprime loans to add more mortgages to their plans. Subsequently he goes to the biggest banks in America and bets against the housing market. Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) learns of these transactions and presents them to the second set of bankers, Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team of investors, who investigate the issue further. Finally, two young bankers, Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock), find Burry's pitch regarding the housing market bubble and team up with retired trader Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to help them make the trades. But as the three sets of bankers reveal more about the housing bubble, the more the moral implications of their bets are brought into question and the corrupt system simply keeps getting worse.

Steve Carell as Mark Baum

McKay has gathered a stunning cast to tell this important story. Steve Carell is on the top of his game, reuniting with a director that made him eat coffee grinds in one of their last outings. Carell's Baum is the moral compass at the centre of the film; he hates bankers and yet is one himself. While the others betting against the house market, like Bale's genius Burry or Goslings sleazy Vennett, are only aiming to gain in either pride or money, Baum is constantly fighting an internal battle and Carell portrays this brilliantly. The ensemble work brilliantly together on screen, though rarely at the same time. Burry is never out of his offices, whilst Pitt, nigh on unrecognisable as Rickert, spends most of his time on the phone, physically separated from those he is performing with. But this does not hold them back, and this is a character based film. We have to care about the people on-screen because they are still part of the corrupt system that the film is criticising - they need to be the good-bad guys - and every single actor give performances that aid that goal.

Brad Pitt as Ben Rickert

Much like this year's Spotlight, The Big Short is a film that takes a incredible ensemble cast and explores the evil actions of humanity. Whilst the subject matter is not quite as dark as Spotlight, it is no easier to swallow. For many of us, what caused the 2008 financial crisis was incomprehensibly confusing, but what McKay does, helped in no small part by screenwriter Charles Randolph, is make it accessible. With entertaining cameos from Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez, Richard Thaler, and Anthony Bourdain as themselves, who help break down some of the more complicated elements of caused the collapsed (Subprime loans, CDOs, Synthetic CDOs) with handy, understandable metaphors (blackjack and fish stew, anyone?). The self-referential postmodernism does not stop there; the fourth wall is nothing to McKay, and characters often take themselves out of a scene to talk to the audience. With such a complex topic, the direct address often adds much needed clarity.

Though a bit clunky at times, cutting to archival footage that breaks up the films pace, and a little bit too long, The Big Short is an engaging, accessible, and important story of corruption, greed, and contemporary history.

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