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The Big Short

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When the financial crash occurred in 2008, I, and probably many others, did not understand the reasons behind it. Sub-prime mortgage sounds vaguely self-explanatory, but why that would cause something described by Mark Baum (Steve Carell) as “financial Armageddon” was not entirely clear. It is to the great credit of Adam McKay’s The Big Short that it explains the events leading up to the crash in terms that are comprehensible without being patronising  and entertaining without being frivolous, in a way that highlights the staggering absurdity and horrifying greed, dishonesty and complacency that led to this economic disaster of the early 21st century. Much of this explanation comes through dumbed-down finance exposition from investment bankers Baum, Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), Michael Burry (Christian Bale) and Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), but sometimes the film provides direct-to-camera explanations by celebrity cameos including Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez. Characters also break the fourth wall by clarifying that clichéd narrative conveniences did not happen the way they appear on screen, which serves as an interesting commentary on what the public will accept, be it narrative conveniences or massive financial incompetence. The film’s colourful array of characters, including Charlie Geller (John Magaro), Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Vinnie Daniel (Jeremy Strong) could become confusing, but McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph’s script, along with editor Hank Corwin’s cross-cutting, deftly balance the ensemble cast, ensuring that equal attention is paid to each group of characters, whose only connection is their common goal to bet against the US economy and make a massive profit while millions of others lose their livelihoods. On that note, the film eschews judgement of its characters, allowing the scale of the events to speak for themselves so the viewer can make their own judgement – indeed Vennett at one point acknowledges and derides the judgement of the viewer over the profit he has made, perhaps suggesting that we would be no better in his position. McKay uses a wide range of cinematic techniques to express the bewildering array of data and transactions taking place, including a striking soundscape, freeze frames and split screens, whip pans and crash zooms as DOP Barry Ackroyd’s camera roams continually but unobtrusively across the frame. Sometimes the film is outright hilarious, other times it is sober and unabashedly depressing. As the credits roll, you may feel a sense of shock, outrage, admiration (grudging or not), amusement or even fatalistic acceptance, which demonstrates the impressive work of The Big Short in drawing you into this complex and potentially impenetrable story.

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11 Comments

  1. […] The Martian won Best Picture at the Golden Globes for, respectively, Drama and Musical or Comedy. The Big Short won Outstanding Producer at the Producers’ Guild of America. Spotlight won Outstanding […]

  2. […] But the other nominees are all focused on male characters and traditionally male endeavours – finance, law/espionage, (space) exploration, survival, journalism. Meanwhile, the […]

  3. […] are all strong – Bale and Ruffalo are fine members of the ensemble casts of, respectively, The Big Short and Spotlight, and Hardy is a brilliant antagonist in The Revenant. I would be happy to see any of […]

  4. […] and DGA awards, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s win for The Revenant was in no way surprising. The Big Short‘s win for Adapted Screenplay was also expected, as was Spotlight‘s win for Original […]

  5. […] I commented that several of the Best Picture nominees were inward looking and critical, including The Big Short and the eventual winner, Spotlight. For the Academy to reward Spotlight in this way, as well as […]

  6. […] 5. The Big Short (22 January 2016) […]

  7. […] such as The International (2009), Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) as well as 99 Homes (2014) and The Big Short (2015). The Infiltrator‘s blending of contemporary concerns over global finance with the […]

  8. […] interconnection, information and finance, a topic that features in a number of recent films such as The Big Short and The Infiltrator. To underfund such a theme in a film with this subject matter is […]

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