You might learn something from The Big Short — if you’re lucky.
The Big Short, set to hit theaters Dec. 23, is billed as the “true story” of the 2008 market crisis and is based on a book of the same name by financial writer Michael Lewis. The film follows several investors played by Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt among others, as they realize the economy is about to tank due to “fraudulent” market activities surrounding home loans. Each investor creates a strategy to strike it rich during the impending market crash, and the audience watches the action unfold without much suspense.
The Big Short’s main downfall is that it’s uncertain of its identity. Is this a drama? A comedy? A documentary? Adam McKay, the film’s director and screenwriter who had previously only directed Will Ferrell movies (such as Anchorman, Step Brothers and The Other Guys), also can’t seem to decide if he wants to assume that the audience knows what happened during the financial crisis or if he wants to spoon-feed it finance 101.
At times, the narrative stops in order to introduce celebrities who play themselves in self-aware vignettes that bulldoze the fourth wall by addressing the viewer directly. These breaks in the plotline are intended to explain the financial theories behind the market’s collapse, but they are distractingly served up by stars such as Anthony Bourdain, Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez.
The filming style is also distracting. It seems as if the camera never moves further than five feet away from the actors. While this choice might have been made to add a feeling of urgency to the film, it also adds feelings of nausea and frustration.
The Big Short’s odd blend of humor, voice-over narration and almost academic explanation of finances creates peaks and valleys of entertainment and boredom. While the subject material is certainly important, McKay’s lack of vision for the film makes it difficult to tell if viewers should take it seriously or not.
Judging by my viewing partners’ inability to keep their phones in their pockets, it would seem that this film might not do incredibly well with the student demographic. Sure, you’ll get to see Gosling talk and look pretty, Pitt exude gravitas, Carell get rich and Bale be Bale, but you’ll probably be overwhelmed by the onslaught of stars and financial jargon. If you’re not a money major, I would recommend spending 15 minutes on Wikipedia looking up the 2008 market crash before walking into the theater.
Ultimately, the main takeaway from this film is emotional. Money talk aside, this is a film about the American people getting cheated by big government and big banks, and you’ll feel it. We’re the suckers, The Big Short tells us, because we haven’t learned our lesson. The big banks are bigger than ever and are backed by the “full faith and credit” of the United States government.
It’s only a matter of time until the next crisis, the movie seems to warn. What will you do about it?