Early in the writing process on “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”, Stanley Kubrick and his team found themselves in a predicament. All their focus on creating a serious story about the threat of nuclear annihilation between the U.S. and the USSR was fruitless. The film was turning stale on the page. That’s when Kubrick realized that the story wasn’t working because it was so ridiculous. He turned the Cold War into a comedy and suddenly everything fell into place. That is why “The Big Short” seems so much stronger than other films that examine the financial meltdown of 2008. The situation behind the calamity is just so devilishly maniacal that at some point you just have to sit back and laugh.
Directed by Adam McKay and written by him and Charles Randolph, the film follows three storylines and multiple characters who foresee the upcoming housing market calamity and bet for it on Wall Street in order to accrue a huge profit when the economy does tank. Based off the book by Michael Lewis, as Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), Michael Burry (Christian Bale), Mark Baum (Steve Carell), Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) begin to uncover just how dire the situation is, they begin to question their own ethics as they stand to profit off the misfortune of so many.
McKay, the director of comedies such as “Talladega Nights” (2006) and “Anchorman” (2004), might seem like an odd choice to helm such a project, but his instincts for comedy blend well the serious subject matter. The film is soaked in a comedic outrage over the situation and the possibility of it reoccurring. The breadth of such flagrant corruption is in its own way hysterical, something that more serious, similar fare such as “Margin Call” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” did not present.
Shot in a frenetic style and using comedic breaks of the fourth wall (the characters directly addressing the camera), the film feels very inclusive with the audience, almost as if we are there with them during the story, and the fact that we are watching the movie with our own background experiences of the financial meltdown fresh in our minds makes the film even more powerful.
With a strong script, powerful acting, tight editing and topical message, “The Big Short” is one of the best movies of the year. Though it lays its intentions on pretty thick near the conclusion, the overall structure, character development and humor mixed with drama make for a potent moviegoing experience.