Pitt. Bale. Carell. Gosling. It’s indecent bragging. Movie chauvinism. The Big Short is ultimately too packed to make use of its team of Pro Bowl all-stars, yet it still manages to be an exciting, fresh film – just not in the way you might expect considering that cast list.
The Big Short is the true story of the men who bet big and won bigger on the 2007 stock market crash. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is the first character we meet. An eccentric hedge fund manager with an aversion to footwear, he spots the weaknesses in the global system everyone else cannot see, or chooses to ignore. He instigates something called a “credit default swap”, essentially betting against the housing market.
Writer and director Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers) seems an unlikely choice for such heavy material and a lot of opaque terminology is thrown around constantly throughout the film. This issue is dealt with in hilarious, surreal fashion involving several celebrity cameos – the details of which are not worth spoiling due to their element of surprise but epitomise the synthesis of seriousness and surprise McKay brings to the film, matched but its raw and spontaneous visual aesthetic and humorous character quirks. Its constant breaking of the fourth wall feels surprisingly natural, providing a verve and energy that makes the dense dialogue easily palatable.
Of the film’s four big stars, Steve Carell is the one with the most to do. His transition from drama to comedy can be traced back to The Way, Way Back and then cemented in the ice cold but undoubtedly gripping Foxcatcher. Here, he is again transformative as the outspoken and determined trader Mark Baum, the closest the film has to a moral core.
The Big Short ultimately relies more heavily on its sharp dialogue and spontaneous documentary inspired filmmaking style rather than its heavily stacked acting corps. Whilst it’s disappointing not to see more from such a talented bunch, its strengths just manage to surprise that much more.
Review by David Rank
The Big Short is out now in the US and out on 22/01/15 in the UK. Rating 15 (UK). Running time 130 mins.