AN EMPIRE OF WORDS

The Big Short (2015)

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The Big Short and Spotlight were two of the main frontrunners into last years Oscar season. I have watched The Big Short twice recently and I am still flabbergasted at the terminology and trying to wrap my head around the premise. The Big Short is based around the housing crisis that caused an economic meltdown in America.

I originally thought it was going to be Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt working in unison to make money off the back of this crash. In short, it actually involves three different groups making their millions and billions through this crash.

With the nature of the story and this housing crisis being in quiet recent memory, the storyline was marketed quite freely with regards to the ending. Instead of focusing on this storyline and trying to make the film full of twists and turns, the film rather focuses on it’s leading cast throughout the 130 minute runtime and their execution of this disaster.

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Christian Bale’s Michael J. Burry first notices the unstable condition of the housing market in 2005 and begins the process of “credit-swapping” so in effect he’s ‘betting’ that the housing market is going to collapse. Michael begins this process and Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) catches wind and misplaces a call to a bank, which leads Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team to investigate whether there is any truth in this.

In the guise of breaking the fourth wall, Ryan Gosling’s tongue-in-cheek character of Jared Vennett, drives the narrative forward. Breaking the fourth wall is rife throughout this film to explain some of the terminology, using some rather strange techniques such as Margot Robbie explaining a ‘Subprimes’ in the bath whilst drinking champagne. The cameo appearances are really strange, in their tongue-in-cheek way, but could’ve worked all the same if the character did the cutaway themselves.

Adam McKay, who is associated with the comedic hits such as Step Brothers and Anchorman, has moved away from this framework, but it’s clear to see the smatterings of comedy throughout the film. Ryan Gosling’s Jared Vennett leads the comedy through the cutaways, but the also appearing in the forms of cameos.

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But McKay’s investigation into the housing crisis becomes interesting when Mark Baum’s team go to Florida and seek out property tenant who are 90 days delinquent. A human element comes into play, as we see people paying their bills to landlords that in turn aren’t paying for the houses. Mark upon this realisation exclaims that there is a ‘bubble’ in the housing market and expresses his distrust in the banking system. Brad Pitt’s Ben Rickert also states the very alarming fact that every 1% of the unemployment accounts for 40,000 deaths, as his partners do a happy jig after striking in lucky in their ‘bets’ against the market.

Mark even goes as far as to meet some of the people responsible for this ‘bubble’ and becomes increasingly frustrating when he realises that they are simply idiots. This repulsiveness extracts from the screen to the viewer, as I personally became flabbergasted as the blasé approach the bankers took to this impending doom.

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Whilst the acting on display is excellent with very interesting roles for Christian Bale and Steve Carell particularly, the cutaways to the random cameos to explain subprimes and CDOs is strange and sticks out like a sore thumb. It makes for entertaining viewing regardless of the terminology that goes right over my head. But it’s a strong outing on the casting (especially Carell in his angry, world-hating boss of a hedge fund) as they carry the film through the runtime and over the confusing terms.

It’s a strong, solid entertaining film. I imagine it would’ve been more interesting had I known more about the housing crisis in 2008 and understood terms, as I’m not the most savvy in this area. I really enjoyed Adam McKay’s comedic outings, but The Big Short has entertained me on a different level rather than laughing at inane comedy. Rickert’s stance on Wall Street and disgust for how it operates is really interesting, but the included humanisation of the story by McKay and actually seeing the implications on a couple of people added another level to this film.

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Author: Nathan Harris

Currently studying Film & Television studies and Media Writing at Derby University. Hopefully wanting to become a film critic/journalist.

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