The Big Short is a pretty bizarre beast of a film, but this is one of those rare instances where immense risk really pays off. Directed and co-written by Adam McKay, whose previous feature filmography is almost exclusively Will Ferrell collaborations such as Anchorman and Step Brothers, The Big Short is an entirely different sort of comedy, founded on real world events and variations on real people. Based on a nonfiction book by the same name, McKay focuses his lens on the financial crisis of 2007 and those who had the foresight to predict the collapse of the world economy. It is with this film that McKay proves himself an incredibly versatile comedy director who can make pointed social commentary as well as screwball popcorn flicks.
The film is shot in pseudo-documentary style, following the experiences of five Wall Street players who, through various means and methods, were able to put together the pieces that foreshadowed the collapse of the housing market and with it the entire American banking industry. To get into the particulars of the narrative would be an exercise in futility as it would ultimately become a lecture on economic theory and the roles those who manipulated the system played within it. However, for what is at its core an exceedingly well-produced piece of edutainment, the film is never dull or tedious to sit through.
This is due to excellent comedic direction that is geared toward simultaneously making you laugh and making you angry at the situations being presented. Complex banking jargon is explained in cutaway sequences of celebrities in innocuous situations explaining the shockingly simple concepts underlying the terminology, which is both silly and necessarily informative. Meanwhile, the cast of main characters is perpetually shocked by the idiocy of those within the banking sector, whose own greed blinds them to the consequences of their manipulative lending practices. Intermixed with the handheld, slightly out of focus shots are fourth wall-shattering asides that serve to point out exactly how fucked up a given situation is.
If the film has one major problem, it’s that some of the pieces of the story don’t feel all that interconnected. Of the film’s four interweaving plotlines, only two ever directly interact, and even then protagonists Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling never actually share a frame together, leading me to speculate that their dialogue was spliced together in post-production. This fragmentary approach fits decently well with the documentary aesthetic the film has going for it, but it still feels a bit odd considering that some characters never have fully realized arcs or have much of a narrative purpose beyond further demonstrating just how deep the rabbit hole of corruption goes.
But narrative isn’t really the point here. Adam McKay is a gifted comic director who is obviously outraged at the lack of consequence the banking industry received in the fallout of the economic collapse, so he used those talents to make a film that would reach the greatest number of people: not a documentary, but a comic dramatization of the events that affected the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. McKay has managed to make a film of people talking about stocks and bonds not only informative, but wickedly funny, and that is no small feat. I may not count this film as one of the best of 2015, but I would certainly count it as one of the most important. This is necessary viewing for anyone and everyone.