One Christmas, my brother got my dad a book called The Big Short, all about the recent financial crisis of 2007-08 and how a certain few individuals came out ahead by basically betting that the whole system was going to collapse, and when it actually did, they made billions. My dad, being in the financial world, loved the book, and wanted us all to read it as well, though I never did; I just didn’t think it would be interesting or accessible to someone like me. Then I heard they were making a film from the book, and I started to wonder how they would go about doing it. The film came out, and I didn’t go see it; aside from what I’d heard about the clever and innovative style the film was told in, I didn’t think it would hold all that much of my interest, or it would be too over-my-head. Now, that it’s been added to the 1001 list, as well as getting a nomination for Best Picture, I’ve basically been forced to see it. So, now, now that I’ve seen it, what do I have to say about it? I don’t really know. I don’t know if I can put my reaction to this film into words. But I’m going to try. I do feel that I should at least try to do that.
The ensemble cast, featuring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and Christian Bale, among others, are all involved in the financial world of Wall Street banking; not the hyper-stylized world that we’ve come to know from films like Wall Street and The Wolf of Wall Street, but the real world of banking as it actually was (any deviations in the film from what really happened in reality are even lampshaded by the characters breaking the fourth wall and explaining the artistic license as well as what actually did happen) circa 2005 or so. One by one, each of the ensemble becomes aware of the true nature of the “bubble” that is the American housing market and what the general entire financial system is propped up on, or figures it out themselves, and one by one, being in the financial sector, they all try and figure out a way to profit off of the impending collapse, or popping, of that bubble. Do they succeed? Yes. Is it worth it? That, dear readers, is the real question. I’ll talk about the actual film itself, and how it was made; director Adam McKay, who until now had largely been known for his comedy work and collaborations with Will Ferrell, delivers a cinematic explanation of the housing market’s collapse in the only way he can: through subversion. Characters, as I mentioned, frequently break the fourth wall, and there are several segments featuring actors completely removed from the events of the film explaining financial concepts to the audience. The film is structured as a docu-drama, but with just enough of a wry twist thrown into it to add that extra layer of “I can’t believe this really happened” to it all. And that’s the real aspect of what makes this film a winner. This film knows what it is, what it’s about, who the characters are, what kind of people the characters really are underneath; this film knows everything, and rather than just explain it straight, or even through subtext and metaphor to make it palatable, the film takes it several layers further. And that’s the point; this isn’t supposed to be palatable. You’re not supposed to relate to these characters, or root for the heroes and boo the villains. This is real life. This really happened, and the film, more than anything, wants every person who watches it to understand that, and understand it the best they can.
After the credits started to roll, I really was unsure of how to go about writing this review. I tried to think of things to say, about the direction or the editing or the cast or anything of the kind… but I couldn’t. All I could do was feel. I felt angry. I felt upset. I felt sickened. But more than anything, I just felt hopeless. This really happened. This actually happened, and everybody involved with making it happen got off completely free (except for literally one guy who went to jail, who’s mentioned at the end of the film), and they didn’t care. They just didn’t care, as long as they got what they wanted. This film gets a recommendation from me for similar reasons that I recommended Citizenfour last year; I think– no, I feel… that it is imperative that everyone who can see this film should see this film. The obligation to casting a light on these real life events through cinema that I didn’t feel with Spotlight, I felt with this film. Is it just me? It could be, maybe. But in that small area of my mind, or my heart, that still has some positive thoughts to say about humanity and people in general, I really do hope that it isn’t just me. We have to be better than this.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10