Do you remember the immortal scene in Sidney Lumet's Network where Peter Finch breaks down live on air and screams "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore"? The Big Short works on that same level of cathartic release, only adapted to the American housing bubble that led to the financial crisis of 2008 and from then on a global recession we're still not exactly free from.
It's a film that comes from a righteous and entirely understandable place of anger, indignation, rage, frustration, injustice, channeled by director Adam McKay into a tongue-in-cheek, freewheeling satire of modern day class struggle and capitalist greed. The Big Short essentially follows a small of group of investors and fund managers from 2005 to 2008, as they realize just how busted, corrupt and unmanageable the American financial system has become, but it excuses no one and its heroes are hardly squeaky clean. Nobody is innocent in this sorry tale of credulity, high hopes and dreams of profit, not even the fund manager who effectively gambled on what would eventually be the apocalypse of a whole socio-financial structure.
The film seems structured as an ensemble mosaic narrative, cross-cutting between three sets of leads: first, quasi-autistic pattern analyst Michael Burry (Christian Bale); then, perpetually apoplectic idealist fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his crew, and smug, ambitious shark Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling); finally, small-town "garage fund" managers Jamie Shipley and Vinny Peters (Finn Wittrock and John Magaro) and their neighbour and consultant Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). But, in a nice, smart touch, they never actually meet; and there is no connection between them other than serendipitous hearsay that brings it all home.
Starting from Michael Lewis' non-fiction best-seller, Mr. McKay and co-screenwriter Charles Randolph distill it into a no-holds-barred screwball satire that is unashamedly accessible and populist but trusts its audience to think for themselves, propelled by an utterly manic velocity that seems to have internalized the non-stop rhythms of a trading floor (a virtuoso feat of editing by Hank Corwin). It's an ADD-fuelled rollercoaster ride that leaves your stomach feeling queasy from all the apparent sugar rush - but that candy coating is why you'll sit through The Big Short grinning like a fool only to come out with whiplash from the constant twists and turns you've just witnessed.
THE BIG SHORT
USA. 2015. 130 minutes
Starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Melissa Leo, Hamish Linklater, John Magaro, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, Finn Wittrock, Marisa Tomei
Directed by Adam McKay; written by Charles Randolph and Mr. McKay; based on the book The Big Short by Michael Lewis; cinematography Barry Ackroyd (widescreen); music by Nicholas Britell; production designer Clayton Hartley; costume designer Susan Matheson; film editor Hank Corwin; produced by Mr. Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner and Arnon Milchan; a Plan B Entertainment production, presented by Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises