Film - The Big Short

Steve Taylor-Bryant gets a hit of his favourite subject as he takes a look at the DVD of Adam McKay’s film adaptation of The Big Short...

Having read all the books by Michael Lewis (Flash Boys review here) and having loved Moneyball as a film, it seemed only right that I, belatedly I'll admit, took a look at the Oscar winning film of the book The Big Short. The style in which Michael Lewis writes his books are extraordinarily easy to follow without ever being dumbed down which allows the narrative contained in those pages to transfer to the big screen maybe slightly easier than other books on the subjects and I am never surprised to see the films nominated come awards season. Moneyball had 4 Golden Globe nominations and 6 nominations at the Oscars, The Blind Side won Sandra Bullock an Oscar statue and picked up Best Film, and now The Big Short has won 2 and was nominated for another 3 awards in the most prestigious of industry awards. Having a Lewis book as your starting point is all well and good but you have to transcribe that information, the hours and hours of interviews, the facts and figures, and the inevitable outcome into something a film going audience will sit and watch and that is no mean feat. Adam McKay (Ant-Man/Step Brothers) and his co-scribe Charles Randolph (Love & Other Drugs) have taken a complicated and twisted subject full of broken structures and ego and used their obvious skill with storytelling and comedy to produce a script that includes all the strange and alien Wall Street details of deals and plays them out in manageable style. Having read the book and knowing the characters as well as I do I didn’t need a world renowned chef, Anthony Bourdain, to have a segment that compares the supposed AAA rated mortgage bonds that actually contained B rated subprime loans to fish soup but watching the film with my wife who knew very little about the story I saw that her enjoyment level was maintained because of it and learned that these segments (there is also a gambling one with Selena Gomez that expertly shows how gambling and odds within trading floors and companies work) are actually very clever film-making tools that that allowed everyone to take something enjoyable from the film.

Once you have the near perfect script you need near perfect casting to carry the project off. A bunch of Hollywood’s greatest doesn’t always lead to a great film but in Bale, Carell, Pitt, and Gosling you had the core of really talented actors needed to portray the various characters. Bale as the socially awkward, one-eyed, but brilliant Michael Burry was spot on. I read the book a while ago so at that time didn’t know Bale would star as Burry but the performance and look of Burry, the certainty of his convictions that bordered on arrogance was typical Bale upping the bar of his performances yet again. Carell as the angst filled Baum, the hedge fund manager with the life’s goal of sticking it to the big banks was brilliant. I’ve always been unsure about Carell. I don’t find his comedy that funny, in my opinion he tends to use tired and old formulas and adds nothing new or refreshing to them, and his serious roles to date whilst good I’ve felt he was upstaged by his other cast members. However with The Big Short I now see why director after director has persevered with him, they have all been looking for this performance. The built up loss within Baum over the suicide of his brother, the anger at Wall Street, the sheer determination to see his short through to the bitter end and help destroy the system whilst making his investors even more wealthy, and his eventual guilt at his and big finances part in the world economic downturn was spellbinding to watch and I will certainly be watching Carell more closely in the future. Pitt does what Pitt always does, turns up briefly, performs at the top of his game, allows others to play off him well and then disappears into the background as quickly as he came in. Brad Pitt won’t be remembered for this role when we look back at his career in the future as it’s not a defining one for him but without him as Ben Rickert, the trader that turned his back on big money due to the corruption he found himself surrounded by, you wouldn’t have got the stellar performances of Charlie Geller by John Magaro (Carol) and Jamie Shipley from Finn Wittrock (American Horror Story) that were a compelling and important part of the story. Cameos from Karen Gillan, Rafe Spall, and Kathy Tao were all welcome but my main love of this films cast goes to the incredible Ryan Gosling. As the banker trying to bet against his own bank, Jared Vennett, and the films narrator, Gosling was astonishing to watch. Badly dyed and awfully styled hair and a dodgy fake tan helped to hide Gosling’s usual ‘star’ looks and allowed you to instantly buy into him as the man who just wanted to make money. From his first foul mouthed entrance to the last of his scenes with money in hand, Gosling was exactly what you expect a Wall Street banker to be like. I despised his every move with a passion and yet adored every scene stealing occasion he was in front of my eyes. Gosling is a top actor, Drive and The Ides of March are testament to his talent, but like Christian Bale in The Big Short he has yet again excelled himself.

I have quite the love for financial irregularities and downright corruption in my pop culture choices and let's be honest, this is a proper A list cast trying to bring my niche love to a wider audience. For an avid student of the subject matter, despite my mathematical and economic incompetence, and as a huge fan of the cast, The Big Short to me is like discovering really good porn for the first time. That may sound like quite the gratuitous description but we all remember being younger and discovering the naked human form for the first time and staring in glee as something we knew was wrong unfolded in front of eyes don’t we? Oh, well just me then.

Images - IMDb

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