Brad Johnson is a screenwriter promoting the mantra “Read scripts, watch movies, and write pages.” Brad also works as a script consultant for writers of all levels to develop and grow their screenwriting toolbox. Follow Brad on Twitter @RWWFilm.
Making a big screen adaptation of a nonfiction book chronicling the beginning of the 2008 global financial crisis seems like a risky choice and when you add a director (Adam McKay) who made his name in raucous R-rated comedies, the choice seems downright bizarre. But here’s the crazy thing about THE BIG SHORT.
It works. Really well.
Throughout his years in comedy, from writing for Saturday Night Live, to helming some of your favorite Will Ferrell movies, McKay has proved adept at shining an unwavering spotlight on the absurd and this movie proves no different.
Jumping right into the deep end with a dizzying explanation of the beginnings of mortgage bundling, it’s clear that THE BIG SHORT plans on tackling the complex and intentionally confusing Wall Street practices that ultimately led the world to the edge of financial collapse head on. As an audience member, you’re almost immediately confused – but that’s okay – you’re supposed to be. That’s part of the game, and McKay goes through great pains to showcase exactly how ludicrous it all is.
In fact, he goes so far as to break the fourth wall – acknowledging to the audience that he knows they are probably lost and that the subject matter can be very dry – both of these things done very intentionally by the financial sharks at the heart of American greed that is on display here – McKay brings in Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, and Selena Gomez at various points to talk us through the more complex aspects in a more engaging fashion (who doesn’t want to listen to Margot Robbie describe junk bonds while sipping champagne in a bubble bath?). These cameos work on several levels and act almost as an exclamation point on the ridiculous that all of this really happened.
The fact that it all comes off smoothly and amazingly engaging is also helped by McKay’s stellar A-List cast. Between Christian Bale as the physicist-turned-investor that initially discovered that the mortgage bond industry was propped up on bad mortgages – Steve Carrell as another jaded investor that keeps searching in vain for some sign of humility or compassion in the financial sector he lives in – Brad Pitt as a retired financial wiz who decides to dip his toe back into his old stomping grounds – and Ryan Gosling as a smooth talking investment banker – it’s an embarrassment of acting riches on display from start to finish.
As we’re constantly reminded however, no matter how good intentioned or engaging these characters are, what we’re watching is their attempt to profit off the upcoming collapse of the housing market. We’re rooting for them to succeed, but at the same time, we’re made painfully aware that if they do succeed, it means foreclosures – job loss – bankruptcy – the near end of the world economy.
If this review seems light on a description of plot, it’s because the movie is more about the processes at work here than any real narrative. We watch the characters weave their way through this labyrinth of greed, incompetence, and hubris, laughing along with them until the reality of it all hits us and punches the audience in the gut.
THE BIG SHORT is as frightening as it is fantastic. The kind of movie everyone should see, and the kind of movie you’ll never want to see again.
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