Title: The Big Short
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama
Director: Adam McKay
based on the book by Michael Lewis
Music: Nicholas Britell
Cinematography: Barry Ackroyd
It takes guts to make a film has an indignant through-line in its core: the capitalistic turpitude resides inveterately in human’s speculative and grasping inclination, because there is no redeeming feeling of triumph or sympathy with which one can empathise in the ugly truth. In the hands of those privileged few (bankers, financiers, mortgage brokers, real state agents, etc.), millions of ordinary people suffer as the brunt of its disastrous repercussions (the global financial crisis in 2008), and what’s more unnerving, the same skulduggery is wheeled out under a new name soon after, and it will only take time to reach a boiling point again, there is absolutely no cure to change the status quo, because that’s nuts and bolts of capitalism, who dares to overturn capitalism?
In the face of such exasperation and pessimism, which director Adam McKay has no scruples to force down viewer’s throat (for some it may seem like a bolt out of the blue, but for majority of its audience, it is like flogging a dead horse: bankers are evil, roger that!), THE BIG SHORT pluckily alternates its three strands of individuals who successfully presage the crisis and leavens its mass appeal by using a mordant fourth-wall-breaking tack to elucidate its arcane gobbledygook and bean-spilling (sometimes with star cameos, for instance, Margo Robbie in her bathtub), interlaced with signposting snapshots and burnished by a cutting-edge montage job from Oscar-nominated editor Hank Corwin. In toto, it rounds outs as a disarmingly sleek infotainment.
But, there is a catch, reckoning the nature of those real-life characters’ actions, they are whip-smart profiteers, who jump on the window of opportunity and feather their nests in the wake of others’ miseries, yet, McKay and co-screenwriter Charles Randolph also try to hold some of them in the moral high ground – namely Steve Carell’s Mark Baum, who is deviled by his conscience and brims with sense of justice, and Christian Bale’s Michael Burry, an one-eyed geek who at least invests his Brobdingnagian gain into good use (says the film’s epilogue) – which is a safe move but clashes with the cynical reality it depicts, whereas both Oliver Stone’s WALL STREET (1987) and Martin Scorsese’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) are much more honestly unsparing in scrutinizing the too-big-to-fall pathology and its fetidness. So a skeptical mind would unavoidably question, whether the supposed compassion towards these characters belies McKay’s unsavory agenda to veer the film’s tenor from a stringent exposé to an adulation of their (self-seeking) acts? That is a dangerous signal.
The ensemble cast is blameless though, Christian Bale’s Oscar-nominated turn is hyperbolically eccentric, but he is competent enough to not let him slide into caricature and brings out a nice patina of ambiguity, dispassion and even pathos (why should we feel sorry for him?). Ryan Gosling is unapologetically bumptious (fun to watch thought) as the chief narrator and Brad Pitt, again, takes a beneficent role without too much challenge (12 YEARS A SLAVE 2013, remember?), which leaves Steve Carrell, who, actually, materializes a toothsome performance in a border-line leading role, carries the momentum engagingly until an eleventh-hour capitulation, only undercut by the conservative slant of the writers’: kitted with such ammo, instead of rubbing the salt into the still-fresh wounds of a dysfunctional society, why not leaving a chipper mood to suggest opportunist can still run away with it? That is a minor disgrace in an otherwise robust picture wrestling with something dauntingly intractable.
P.S. My inner dialogue:
“- Hey, it is a biographical film, those who are still alive can sue us for calumny!
– Yeah, than don’t make a biopic, cinema is composed of lies, and reality sucks!.”
referential points: Martin Scorsese’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) 8.0/10; Oliver Stone’s WALL STREET (1987) 7.5/10.