Oscars Season: The Big Short
Straight from minute one, The Big Short fires on all cylinders. A barrage of economic buzzwords, skyrocketing sums and the Wall Street buzz light up the screen, threatening to leave you behind if you miss but a single word. Then, a few minutes in, Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) turns to the camera, suddenly realising how lost we all are. Enter Margot Robbie being served champagne in a bubble bath to explain what the heck is going on. Even though it is little more than a brief cameo, this gives a pretty good idea about what kind of film The Big Short is.
But fear not, this is no wannabe Wolf of Wall Street clone. This is an entirely different kettle of economically unstable fish. Taking on the job of translating the financial crash of 2008 into a gripping drama, director Adam McKay strikes a well-measured balance of comedy and tragedy to create an engaging docu-drama that is executed with plenty of panache.
Gosling, Christian Bale and Steve Carrel all impress as the "antiheroes" of the piece, with the story perfectly balanced between each of their tales. All three deliver somewhat unexpected performances: Bale as the socially awkward and offbeat Michael Burry, Gosling as the self-assured, increasingly arrogant Jared Vennett and Carell as the obnoxious but anxious Mark Baum (who just edges it over the others in the humour department and has been cruelly overlooked in the awards department).
This is schizophrenic film-making at its best. A bevy of mid-noughties hits and pop culture icons fly past, accompanied by a medley of upbeat Americans, enthusing about their country's prosperity and the security of the housing market. Both the characters and the writing moves at lightning fast speed, tearing past the smug bankers and dim-witted ratings agencies with equal amounts of vim and vigour.
McKay never takes any knowledge for granted though, breaking the fourth wall on several occasions for Gosling, the aforementioned Robbie and even an unexpected Selena Gomez to break down the baffling banking world into more understandable terms. This hand-holding never feels patronising or pretentious, marrying the complexity of economics with clever comedy to deliver a brutally efficient breakdown of the crisis through the eyes of the increasingly alienated Burry, Baum and Vennett.
Adam McKay's move away from trashy Will Ferrell comedies to a tragicomedy on the relatively recent economic crisis was surprising news but the director appears to have hit his stride, pairing witty and electric writing with eclectic directing to deliver a highly entertaining but hugely thought-provoking account of one of America's great shames. The fact that Bale, Carell and Gosling are all on top form helps too.