If you want to dumb down the dense stock market speak of Michael Lewis’s non-fiction book about the credit and housing market crash, what better step to take than to hire Anchorman’s Adam McKay as the director of its adaptation? He adds much needed silliness to a film that ultimately conveys a cynical message about the world economy, one that’ll make you contemplate opening an account at the Royal Bank of Mattress.
I know what you’re thinking. How can you make that kind of subject matter appealing to the average moron? It’s simple: cram the bastard with as many a-list stars as you possibly can until everyone forgets it’s a film about subprime mortgages. ‘Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling! Bam! Steve Carell and Brad Pitt! Pow! Have some of that, you gurning twats! Just don’t read the synopsis.’
Those big names play just a handful of the people who predicted (and profited from) the financial crash of 2007-8. How they assessed the market and discovered it was propped up on worthless loans is simplified to primary school level, treating us like feckless dogs that only understand three or four words. The film uses several cutaways to celebrity guests who help explain all the complex terminology. Margot Robbie, for example, tells us about mortgage bonds while soaking herself in a bubble bath. And Selena Gomez tries to convince us she knows what a Synthetic CDO is. I would call it patronising, but without these scenes I might as well have watched it in Swahili while standing on my head.
As useful and as amusing as these cutaways are, they disrupt the film’s flow and create awkward transition periods, like when a news reporter has a time delay on their feed and they end up disconcertingly staring into the camera as if they’ve just shat themselves. And some of the celebrities’ analogies don’t even work. American Chef Anthony Bourdain compares CDOs to his seafood stew, stating it’s like putting all the old, left over fish in with the fresh stuff to make something entirely new. That explains why CDOs are dodgy, but does it also mean his stew is going to poison you? Fuck eating at his restaurant.
Despite all the simplification, understanding what “shorting the market” actually means, where they’re putting their money and who will be paying up, requires Buddhist levels of concentration; the kind you probably don’t have if you were drawn to this film solely because of the symmetrical faces on the poster.
If you thought this would be another version of The Wolf of Wall Street, minus the sex, drugs and dwarf-tossing, then you were only about 24% right. It has great performances – Bale in particular as a glass-eyed, socially awkward genius – and provides a lot of laughs, but unlike Scorsese’s debauchery biopic, The Big Short wants you to get seriously angry. It wants you to know that the world economy crumbled because of greedy and fraudulent bankers, not the immigrants and poor who took the blame. For us mere mortals it’s like a perturbing documentary, but if you’re a stock mogul who’s watching it with a cocaine-smothered hooker, then it’s probably a right laugh.
Words by Chris Edwards
Chris’s Twitter @CMEcontent