If someone was to sit you down and request you write a list of directors whom you believed would be likely to direct a film on the 2008 financial crash, how many would you get through before you got to Adam McKay? The man who created Ron Burgundy may have included a small lecture at the end of The Other Guys about said financial crash, but he would still have been far down most people’s lists. And yet, here we sit. The Big Short not only exists but has five Oscar nominations, including Best Director for McKay. So how did he pull it off?
Well, he started off by getting one hell of a cast together. Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt and that’s just the beginning. Interestingly, though, they might as well be in different films. Each one telling the story of one group of people who predicted the crash of the housing market. Bale does 90% of his work from one room, where he furiously drums along to heavy metal and struggles to deal with the real world. While Pitt teams up with two young hedge fund owners, betting against the market. Finally, Carell and Gosling are the only two to share any real screen time. As Mark Baum and Jared Vennett, the outspoken Wall Street hedge fund manager and the man who comes to him with his fascinating discovery.
It’s an interesting conceit and actually is one of many such ideas in this film. Because let’s just get this out there, I don’t understand any of this shit and I’m not the only one. The film openly embraces this fact, breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly and at the same time try to solve that problem. Whether this is Gosling and some Jenga bricks or Margot Robbie in a bath (one of many famous faces to cameo as themselves and explain complicated financial terms) it works. I don’t know if I could explain it now, but while I was watching the film I think I got it.
And yet all of that sounds just a bit too much like a lot of fun and games. Which is true, this may be McKay going serious but he hasn’t changed completely. This film is very funny at times. It sounds preposterous, but you end up laughing at a film about the financial crash. Which could be a problem, if it wasn’t that McKay also remembers to get across how serious this issue was. It may make you laugh but at the end of the day, this is a film about men who made money off of a disaster. It may not have involved collapsing buildings and The Rock punching things, but it was a tragedy and as Brad Pitt’s character reminds us everytime employment rises 1% in the USA, 40,000 people die.
So it’s a balance that McKay and his cast must tight walk down, keeping the audience engaged but also getting across the story he is trying to tell. And yet he does it, this film charges along at a merry old pace, making you laugh and making you think. While Christian Bale is brilliant, the real star is actually Carrell, whose character embraces the audiences utter bafflement at how these people got away with this shit.
The Big Short is a good film but it is also one that should get a conversation started. A conversation that all felt a bit swept under the carpet. How did the people who got us into this situation get away with it? If it can start that conversation, it will be a huge success. The fact it manages to be entertaining while doing so is just an added bonus.