The Big Short is based on a nonfiction book about the Big Crash of 2008. Director Adam McKay, famous for his Will Farrell comedies, adapted the book to screen as a fiction film, replacing real figures with more dramatized, name-changed characters. McKay, known for far broader material than this, must’ve known he was against the wall in making a lot of white-collar, business-babble palatable to mainstream audiences. He even commences his task by featuring a blonde in a bathtub, breaking the fourth wall (it happens a lot in this movie), explaining the idea behind sub-prime mortgages.
Why, then, in the name of holy hell, did he even want to make this movie?
I’ve got no idea. And I’ll be honest: I’m completely bored by business. I can count the number of films about big business that I’ve liked on one hand. They generally try to make a point that isn’t enlightening to me, using characters I don’t care about, employing a plot that usually confuses me as much as it bores me. And one usually begets the other.
We pretty much get a cavalcade of twenty or thirtysomething white guys, played by such Hollywood stars as Christian Bale and Steve Carrell, yakking away in the years just before the bubble burst on Wall Street, plunging the country into Recesssion and making the phrase “Too big to fail” common parlance. The men (and they’re ALL men, except for a few female sex objects) couldn’t be any less consequential – they’re pretentious, obnoxious, boring, unlikeable talking heads that repelled me ways reminiscent of the cast of HBO’s Entourage. And the cable analogy is apt; the production feels completely influenced by the pay-TV stylistic – no scenes, pseudo-intellectual dialogue, slick but choppy cutting, and a thin layer of gloss over everything to impart a false sense of importance.
I was also reminded of TV’s The Office – yes, it’s directed like a fake documentary (for no apparent reason), as well as the highly superior real documentary on the same subject Inside Job (that film also featured songs and images from the era to enhance time-period verisimilitude, something The Big Short apes, unsuccessfully). And let’s also remember the phenomenal documentary The Smartest Guys in the Room, about the Enron crisis. Hmm, perhaps I do like the subject matter, but find fictional accounts too contrived. Perhaps it’s truth that’s more interesting to me, at least in this regard.
In the end, we spend over two hours watching these f-bomb spewing suits heading toward the cliff. McKay never condemns or even questions their behavior, and if he’s glamorizing them, why? There’s no depth or discussion-provoking analysis. By the time we get to the final act, we’re just counting up the number of ways he’s trying explain to us byzantine fiscal matters (the cleverness of utilizing Anthony Bordain and Selena Gomez notwithstanding). After a while, it almost feels like he’s even apologizing for having to take the time to do such explanation.
I suppose I got that the world of big business is pretty damned cutthroat, in ways that we common folk can’t possibly fathom.
There could be a great movie on that topic. The Big Short isn’t it.