Thanks to the continual wonder of Odeon Screen Unseen, I was able to catch The Big Short ahead of the wide release date. This is a film which may not be exactly what you expected, especially if you have not read the spoiler reviews and have just seen the trailer. Go with it… it is essential viewing. Indeed it should be a mandatory part of the school curriculum for every leaving cert student for years to come. That last bit may have put most of you off, especially as The Big Short is about banking and economic collapse…. Here’s five reasons why you should go along:
It is great story telling
Note I didn’t say “a great story”, because this is in fact three stories running in parallel but never actually coming together. One of my small frustrations with the film was that I kept expecting everyone to come together in one great big economic gun fight. This does not happen. What does is that you see three stories intermingled. This is done in pretty much straight chronological progression and in a way that they don’t interfere with each other. They work together to build our understanding of what is going on and hold our attention. I knew I was in the cinema seat a long time watching The Big Short, but it didn’t feel like it.
It is genuinely funny
Adam McKay (director) is well known for his Will Ferrell comedy partnership. The Big Short is not like that at all. There is no slapstick, no gross out, few visual gags. What you do get is absurd (sometimes really absurd) and black humour which keeps the smile quota consistently high all the way. There are enough proper laugh out loud moments to call it a comedy as well as a drama.
It has great acting
Pretty much every main character is an extreme of some sort – there’s no one normal here. (The honourable exception is Marisa Tomei, who does the small amount she is asked to do with great subtlety and considerable skill). What the cast have to do is give you something to connect to as a fellow human beings. Christian Bale only just gets this over the line with a lot of visible effort. Ryan Gosling gets there with comfort, but Steve Carrell is simply immense. He manages steers a course of humanity between the potential rocks of obnoxiousness and grotesqueness and give his character Mark Baum real depth and believability. You won’t love him, but you’ll recognise him as a person, and you will believe the muted ending to his performance and feel its power.
You stand a good chance of understanding what went on
This is a complicated subject with a lot of technical terminology and difficult concepts to get your head round. The Big Short has a lot of different approaches to getting to the heart of what was going on with the home loan mortgage system in America. Some are real life stories and examples that are genuinely engaging and moving. There is also a very funny series of cutaway sequences where concepts are explained. Overall it makes for an engaging unravelling of what was going on, why the system fell apart so dramatically, and how the whole industry was a mixture of deliberate wrongdoing and stupid bad practice.
It will scare the shit out of you and call you to action
This could, and probably is, happening again. The whole concept of the “financial services” industry is that it is an enormous pyramid scheme. In good times, the little people (so nicely called customers) get small benefits. As you head up the pyramid the benefits get bigger and bigger until those who run the industry get obscenely rich. In bad times, the industry still gets obscenely rich… the little people lose. In 2008 the little people lost really badly. This industry will, left to its own devices, bring its cunning and stupidity to bear and create ever more ingenious ways to build bubbles and pyramid schemes and make money. If the little people get something out of it, then that’s a bonus!
At some time this year the good people of Ireland will have a various array of politicians knocking on their doors looking to get elected. Ask them one simple question – “what are you going to do to stop 2008 happening all over again?” Seeing this film reminds you that this is one of the most important questions you can ask anyone in power. It also helps you to understand if the answer you get has any sort of credibility or is merely complete bollocks. The depressing thing is that I’m not hopeful of getting a good answer from anyone who knocks on my door!