With every new 2015 cinematic release, insiders and prognosticators are seeking a standout film to swoop in and take over the Best Picture race. In steps Adam McKay's potential contender, The Big Short, a star-studded examination of the United States' economic meltdown following the 2008 housing market collapse. But in a bit of a twist, McKay isn't known for his dramatic appeal. In fact, the director has built quite the reputation as a comedy guru following his synergetic film-partnership with Will Ferrell in collaborations such as Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers and The Other Guys. Yet, perhaps McKay's humerus touch could be exactly the spark needed to jump-start this Oscar tailspin.
Back in 2005 hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) recognized a dangerous trend in the United States housing market. And when he uses his full contractual authority to go against the wishes of his clients and bet against the power of the highly regarded banking system, word of his antics quietly spreads around Wall Street. While most insiders laugh off the possibility of a structural breakdown, other money managers and investors such as Mark Baum (Steve Carell), Jamie Shipley and Charlie Geller look beneath the surface of the markets and bravely follow in Burry's footsteps.
Adam McKay deserves copious amounts of respect as he achieves the remarkable feat of transforming dull and monotonous source material into a laugh-filled and enjoyable affair. The Big Short succeeds on many levels and, at its finest moments, uses unorthodox narrative techniques to capture the audience's attention and hold it firmly for two plus hours. Be on the lookout for hysterical cameos from rising star and Australian beauty Margot Robbie, Chef extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain and pop-sensation Selena Gomez, all of which cleverly address the film's nauseating banking and mortgage lingo in a spry and comical way. Furthermore, Steve Carell follows up his Oscar nominated turn in Foxcatcher with another exceptional performance. His cynical character is highlighted perfectly through the constant back and forth with bank trader, Jared Vennett, played by a typically charismatic Ryan Gosling. But through all of these impressive turns, it's Christian Bale's supporting work that stands out as the most likely to land in the awards season discussion. All in all The Big Short is a winning drama benefiting from outside-the box storytelling, a sturdy comical undertone and fine acting from its entire cast.
However, despite all of the film's glowing attributes and valiant attempts to withstand such boring source material, the inner workings of the financial and housing markets are an irrefutable turnoff. Industry verbiage and terminology prove to be inescapable as they bog down an otherwise hilarious screenplay and, to varying degrees, wear down the viewer. After repeatedly hearing phrases like "sub-prime mortgages" and "collateralized debt obligations (CDOs)" at nearly every turn for over two hours, disinterest inevitably settles in. Yet, just as The Big Short begins to test its audience's patience, the movie's self-aware director recognizes an urgency to wrap up the story. Hitting a wall is unavoidable, but McKay and company are able to withstand the film's own self-restricting limitations.
We all know a family or families impacted by the irresponsible actions of our banks and lenders during the economic collapse of 2008. The dark realities of this historical blunder are enough to warrant a dramatic retelling of such events. Adam McKay does an admirable job of oversimplifying a complicated situation and the result is an often hysterical and well-acted account of American greed. The Big Short is far from the Oscar frontrunner that many were desiring, but it's still a journey worth taking.