As the first week of Star Wars was hammering the last nail into the coffin of thoughtful movies, we decided to rescue cinema and take in director Adam McKay’s The Big Short. I have to admit, I didn’t know what to expect and the meaning of title itself didn’t ring any bells. As it turned out the topic of discussion was the financial crisis, centering around the mortgage bubble of 2008, the “Short” of the title referring to the main protagonists’ bet against the mass hysteria of the property boom.
At around 10 minutes in, a couple of young latecomers leaned over and asked if this was the Star Wars movie – maybe J.J. and Disney have brainwashed the public to the extent that it doesn’t matter what they dish up. I kindly told them that they were in the wrong place, but was left wishing I had told them that this was indeed Star Wars just to see what happened. They should have at least noticed that the theater wasn’t even half full. In addition to the pugilistic stellar competition, maybe people stayed away to avoid the agony of financial linguistics, but they needn’t have worried.
McKay and his team did a good job using popular celeb cameos from the likes of Margot Robbie (in a bubble bath to explain the bubble), Anthony Bourdain (rescuing leftovers to illustrate bonds backed by junk mortgages) & Selena Gomez (playing blackjack to show that is all a big gamble) to make a dry topic interesting & understandable. They were at pains to point out that they were not dumbing down, rather removing the obfuscation employed by bankers to keep their ivory towers polished.
The Big Short is shot in a documentary style, employing fake bad focus and shaky cameras to add reality to the main dramatic roles. It works to an extent but I found it a little distracting, verging on irritating. They didn’t need to apologize for what was a well told story. One entertaining element was the use of certain characters corpsing exposition to the camera, particularly Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of cunning broker, Jared Vennett. Gosling has a subtle comic delivery talent, in contrast to the overpraised Steve Carell whose serious chops are inevitably undermined by his comic roots. Christian Bale is the star turn as awkward, Aspergerish Michael Burry, who was first to predict the crash and to invite the banks to allow him to bet on the outcome. His detached weirdness under duress builds suspense for the movie as you begin to root for the main characters who are swimming against the current of unfounded greed. On a aesthetic note, why did the hair and make up people give Ryan Gosling an orange tan that made him look like the love child of George Hamilton and an Oompa loompa? and the real life Steve Eisman (renamed Mark Baum in the movie) must have been furious that they gave Steve Carrell Donald Trump’s hair, a quick Google shows that he doesn’t look that bad.
The movie themes the greed and dishonesty of the system, and points out that even the “good guys” of the movie are still part of the system who at the end profited from the misery of the common people who lost their hopes and dreams along with their defaulted homes. Stay to the end of the movie, the very last sentence is a cautionary note. 2008 is now seven years past, and the greedy have the shortest memories. Don’t worry, in spite of my anti-establishment statements at the top of this article, I’m still going to go and see Star Wars once the fuss dies down…