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‘The Big Short’ Aims High But Falls Short

Steve Carell-Big Short-680         Approaching
the world financial meltdown of 2008 with a cheeky style and a towering
accumulation of moral outrage, director/co-writer Adam McKay tries to turn
Modern Economics 101 into a piece of mainstream entertainment …and nearly
succeeds. But there are two fundamental problems with The Big Short: the subject is dense and hard to understand, and
despite a handful of charismatic stars, there’s no one to root for.

         That, of
course, is McKay’s point. The purported good guys who saw that the economic
bubble was about to burst—lone wolves in the financial world like iconoclastic
Christian Bale, insolent Steve Carell, cocky Ryan Gosling, and coolly removed
Brad Pitt—mocked and shut out by their colleagues and superiors, wound up
betting against the American economy and profited as the world around them
shattered. Curious heroes, indeed.

         McKay goes so
far as to recruit pop figures like Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, and Selena
Gomez to talk directly to us in the audience and try to explain some of the
complexities of Wall Street doublespeak. It’s a mildly amusing gimmick but it
doesn’t solve the inherent issue: this stuff was intended to be confusing.

Ryan Gosling-Big Short-280

         The Big Short is based on a book by
financial journalist Michael Lewis, who gave us Moneyball and The Blind Side.
Filmmaker McKay is best known for broad comedies like Anchorman, made with his longtime partner Will Ferrell. He and
co-screenwriter Charles Randolph score points for trying to dramatize events
leading up to the economic crisis of ’08 and express the kind of indignation we
all feel. But even the basics of this story are difficult to follow and
sometimes downright impenetrable. This limits the film’s ability to engage us
in what is intended as a grimly comic farce.

         To its credit,
The Big Short is never dull, but it
misses the mark. If you want to understand how our economy was manipulated, I’d
recommend Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job.
It may not be funny, but it documents the situation as clearly as possible—and
leaves you wanting to storm the battlements of Wall Street and Washington. 

2 comments

  1. Cari Cudney says:

    Thanks for the insight Leonard. It makes sense. I love movies, and I always jot down my own notes after a screening, THEN read your opinion…and we usually are so much in agreement that it is scary. I had the pleasure to meet you at the Bogart Film Festival and love following your week. Thanks for your contributions.

  2. Jeffrey says:

    Mr. Maltin didn’t seem to understand Margin Call, a film more straightforward but largely on the same subject matter. It would appear to be the case here as well. Perhaps films that deal with this kind of storyline is outside his purview.

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