I went to see this with an air of reluctance, expecting it to be worthy and dull. A topic Hollywood feels compelled to make a movie about and will be very earnest in telling you just how bad these people were. But it turned out to be a lot more fun than one has a right to expect when having mortgage bonds, credit default swaps and CDOs, explained to us. Director McKay realised this stuff was the antithesis of any decent movie narrative so just decided to throw every director tricksy thing from the past 20 years at it: a chef explaining collective bonds, direct to camera dialogue, an animated drawing of a testicle, textual description on screen. None of it is particularly new, and many will find it irritating, but it works by breaking up the heavy duty economics lecture, and having a knowing playfulness throughout. See the scene above, with Gosling being an ironic parody of a Wall Street guy “I smell money”.
By an odd coincidence, I had started watching The Step Brothers earlier in the day, and turned it off after 20 minutes finding it crass and unfunny. Only after I’d seen the Big Short did I find out it was by the same director, Adam McKay. Apart from Ron Burgundy, he has made all the Will Ferrell movies you don’t like. If you were asked to name the director to make the telling film about the banking collapse, and could suggest one every ten seconds continuously over 24 hours, we’d probably be a few weeks into the process before you stumbled upon Adam McKay, half in jokey desperation to make this nightmare game end. He would seem the least likely candidate to make the film about the 2008 crash.
And yet he may have just been the perfect choice. In choosing to play it as a light comedy he shows how ludicrous the whole thing was, and how ridiculous these men are. But that these ridiculous men still controlled our lives and caused a global collapse is the biggest indictment of all on the system. It is a better political statement than making All The Presidents Men – the Wall Street version. It’s an odd Oscar choice, and won’t stand a chance against the more strident The Revenant, but in many ways it is a more thoughtful film.