4 stars
Wanna get mad? Mad of the that-makes-me-so-angry-I-could-kick-a-puppy kind of mad? Adam McKay has the film for you.
Set in the months preceding the GFC of 2007/8, The Big Short (co-written with The Interpreter's Charles Randolph), tells the interconnected story of six men who made their fortunes betting against the banks. They could see that a big chunk of the sky was about to fall but since no one would take them seriously, they took matters into their own hands.

Michael Moore's 2009 documentary Capitalism: A Love Story is non-essential but useful homework, telling as it does how the American (and therefore the global) financial system was sitting atop a house of cards made of junk. Literally. Junk bonds are at the heart of this insanity. Once the rot set in and the system cracked, some people were poised to make a killing while those around them perished. That line of people, if Moore is to be believed, went all the way to the White House.

Meanwhile McKay focuses his attention on the true story of three traders (Christian Bale - American Hustle, Ryan Gosling - The Place Beyond The Pines - and Steve Carell - Foxcatcher) who could read the numbers. A deeply paranoid fourth (Brad Pitt - Fury) is brought into the fold by two young entrepreneurs who get wind of the inevitable crash. In separate, vaguely connected dealings they short the system, betting against the banks who remain steadfast that a housing market which had never crashed, never would. So far so CSI: Wall Street. What makes this exceptional is the wit, humour and sheer inventiveness that McKay brings to the telling.

Gosling is the guide, a steely eyed narrator who frequently breaks the fourth wall with an explanatory wink to camera. Useful when it comes to navigating the complicated world of hedge funds, securities and financial packages which those in the sector barely understood (what hope had we?). He's an opportunist linking Bale's eccentric prophet and Carell's furious idealist whose tolerance of Wall St corruption has all but run out (see above re White House). Yet these men, all of them, are traders foremost. Money keeps their hearts beating.

Then, in moments of delightful whimsy, McKay wheels out Margo Robbie to explain the complicated bits. From a bubble bath. Or Anthony Bourdain in a kitchen who colourfully relates that: 'Bonds are dog shit. CDO's are dog shit wrapped in cat shit'. Disturbingly, it makes as much sense as the reality of this world, which made no sense at all (and quite likely, still doesn't). McKay doesn't let these tonal swings overwhelm the crux of the story, well aware that his protagonists are far from avenging crusaders. These are people who bet against the wellbeing of their fellow Americans, and in Pitt's case, bet against America itself. There's a whisper of troubled morality in the narrative, one all but drowned by the steady drumbeat of money.

When the new dawn inevitably rises (wonderfully set on a blinding morning in Vegas, the analogy is delicious), the fallout has begun. It wraps a story that pins down what for most is a farcical shell game and hands back to films like 99 Homes which defined the next chapter in this sorry saga. The Big Short is the movie that Wolf Of Wall Street wasn't, capturing the astonishing inhumanity of capitalism in the most compelling, vivid and entertaining light. Just prepared to get angry (and remember to hide your puppy).


Previewed at Event Cinemas, George St, Sydney, on 7 December 2015

Ryan Gosling
Christian Bale
Brad Pitt
Steve Carrell

Adam McKay

Charles Randolph



130 minutes

January 14, 2016
The Big Short (2015) on IMDb
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