South Park set the rules on when it was OK to make jokes about a bad event with the utterly tasteless and funny episode Jared Has Aides (S0602). The Big Short is a bit early, according to those parameters, but it works. It doesn’t hurt that the Fed just started turning around the interest rates just days ago.
But back to the movie itself… this is primarily an ensemble film, with a couple stand-out performances. Steve Carell follows up his Foxcatcher turn with another nomination-worthy performance. Christian Bale (Out of the Furnace) also manages a unique, if isolated, turn in this film. It is one of his more subtle roles, and nicely contained, if not quite nomination worthy.
Amid the other performances, there were a also couple of near-reprisals. Ryan Gosling (Lost River) as the narrator of this piece has the right energy to drive the film, but it is somewhat a replay of his Ides of March turn, if the character had been on a bit of meth. And Brad Pitt (12 Years a Slave), in turn, is riffing on his 12 Monkeys turn, with slightly more panache.
Over the previous few years we’ve had several films about the various banking crises of the last 4 decades. Margin Call and the less direct Arbitrage come to mind. What director McKay (Anchorman) brought to his and Rudolph’s (Love and Other Drugs) script is the energy and wry humor of their other work to this otherwise purposefully dense subject. They not only acknowledge the industry’s obfuscation of the instruments they sold, they embrace it and make fun of it, while still helping you understand the details in ways you won’t see coming. It is one of the cleverest scripts this year.
Their approach highlights the absurdity of the industry as well as entertains. However, unlike American Hustle, or the even darker Wolf of Wall Street, which were both funny in their way, this is closer to a real bone-biting comedy than either of those quasi-exposés ever achieved. And it has more meat on its bones to go with it as well.
It should be no surprise that, despite the humor, the final moments of the film will have you questioning the resolution of this latest crash (and who thought we’d ever have to use that phrase in our lifetimes?) and the supposed safeguards that were created to stop it happening again. But even with that chill, this movie will make you laugh … consider it a spoon full of sugar with your economic melt-down medicine. But definitely take your medicine.