Tuesday, December 29, 2015

OVP: The Big Short (2015)

Film: The Big Short (2015)
Stars: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Melissa Leo, Hamish Linklater, John Magaro, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, Finn Wittrock, Marisa Tomei
Director: Adam McKay
Oscar History: 5 nominations/1 win (Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay*, Supporting Actor-Christian Bale, Editing)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

I reacted to The Big Short in the same way I did The Martian a few months ago when I first heard about it: "really, another one?"  Coming so soon after The Wolf of Wall Street (in the same way The Martian felt like a retread of Interstellar) I wasn't sure I wanted to once again get into the bro-tastic world of Wall Street and the financial crisis, even if Adam McKay had hired Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and Finn Wittrock, the first two being two of my favorite actors working and the latter fast becoming one.  Then the shock of the Globes/SAG Awards happened, and suddenly The Big Short had gone from being a retread to a serious contender for the Academy Awards, and viewing it stopped being optional.  Thankfully for at least most of the movie I wasn't punished for my Oscar devotion, as The Big Short is largely quite watchable, and we get some game moments from almost every person on the cast sheet.  However, a third act that feels a little bit too self-righteous steals a lot of the fun and thunder of the first two-thirds, almost vanquishing the movie in the process.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film is about the housing crisis, and unlike The Wolf of Wall Street it gets technical, frequently throwing around terms that would normally have audiences reaching for the cell phones to look them up on Google, but thankfully Adam McKay found a way around it.  I don't know if other critics have found this gimmicky or not (I don't read other reviews before I see a film, at least once I've decided to see the film) but I loved the fourth wall breaking when it was done by celebrities.  Nothing quite topped Margot Robbie randomly appearing as herself in a bathtub, but later appearances by Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez were also hilariously on-point, and weirdly informational.  Note to politicians and professors-get celebrities to record your lectures and you'll get people to pay more attention.

This gimmick and the occasional fourth wall break sets the film apart in some ways (though if I recall correctly Leo did the same thing in Wolf of Wall Street-correct me in the comments if I'm wrong!), and honestly the film is highly watchable up until the actual collapse.  All of the male actors, even those who are overplaying their parts (namely Carell and Bale, both pretty lousy at reeling back their characters overblown tics) have at least one great moment in the film, and frequently seeing the ways that Wall Street/the financial industry (and the government is included in that) were rigged against even those who should have been profiting off of their stupidity is fascinating and frightening at the same time.  The film plays in some ways as a horror comedy, as we watch the foolishness of some people and the greed of others threaten to take down the entire financial system and the world economy.  It's staggering in hindsight, but even more staggering to see how infallible everyone seemed to the effects of the system, and one wonders if this was even underplayed to make the movie appear more believable.

The final third of the film, though, where everyone who has been trying to make an enormous profit off of this stupidity gets their payoff and suddenly grows a conscience, is weak.  We see characters played by Bale, Carell, and even Gosling lose their inner stamina and despite making a career off of the greed of others and winning big, they don't like the way that they made the money and try to be the moral police in all of this when in reality they become multimillionaires off of the anguish of the American populace.  They may have wished the system wasn't the way it was, but the system being broken made them richer than their wildest dreams, and the screenplay can't really reconcile that.  Still, up until that point it's a pretty fun ride, and I particularly loved Gosling (such a welcome presence back on the screen in his "I'm ridiculously beautiful and talented" sort of way), Pitt (the only believable moral police), and Wittrock (who is insanely watchable as a guy trying to find his way into "the game").  All-in-all, it's worth the price of admission but the awards love seems a bit much.

Those are my thoughts-how about you?  Did you like, but not love The Big Short, and if not, where did your opinion differ from mine?  Who was the best-in-show amongst the cast members?  And what'd you think of the celebrity cameos?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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