I’m not sure quite why The Big Short* finds itself nominated for lots of awards at the Oscars and Baftas.
It is a zippy satire on the banking crisis so nervous about being dull that it can’t sit still for a minute without having a character address the camera directly or do a smash cut away to a quickly edited montage, or dart off on a flashback or have Margot Robbie sipping champagne in a bubble bath explaining debt leverage.
Guess what? It’s still dull. For all the rat-a-tat dialogue and extreme acting of Christian Bale or Steve Carell, The Big Short drains the life out of you, leaves you no clearer about the mass scandal of what the banking system did (and is still doing) to world capitalism and makes you petrified about your mortgage. The first thing I did on exiting the screening was check my bank balance to make sure some jumped-up New York nerd hadn’t nicked all my money.
Director Adam McKay is know for his comic collaborations with Will Ferrell, on Step Brothers and Anchorman. This might have worked better as Banker-Man, a full on comedy about stockbrokers, which it nearly is. Only it quickly realises, none of this is funny, and none of these people are remotely likeable let alone laughable.
Just because Ryan Gosling takes you through subprime and “credit default swap” and “CDOs” and “ISDAs” and breaks the fourth wall (Street?), it doesn’t make him, his character, or the film in way as charming as it thinks its being. It’s annoying.
The Wolf of Wall Street got away with its depiction of venality and greed, of excess and ludicrous evil because it didn’t try to paint anyone as anything else. These guys (played variously by Rafe Spall, Carell, Brad Pitt, Hamish Linklater et al) are all white, all male, all money-obsessed. I hated them all.
You can have a film without heroes, yes, but you still need a way through the mess and Steve Carell having a moral crisis about whether he should make $250 or $300 million, well, that’s just a wrong choice.
“We’re not the bad guys here,” they attempt to convince themselves, and yet they all are. Even beardy Brad Pitt who’s supposedly turned his back on the system yet still helps a couple of start-up wannabe billionaire “short’ the housing market and make their fortunes. No one’s giving to charity here. And nobody’s going to change it.
The Oscar nominated doc Inside Job was far clearer on what happened and made you genuinely fume at the outrageous swindle and bungle of the world’s ruling classes. Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine showed the effects of the crash on a wounded wealthy woman. But The Big Short revels in its characters’ eye for the main chance and utterly forgets to satirise them, which is just as big a crime as them getting away with it in the first place.
It’s bad enough we all got swindled by the bankers in the first place, without this big starry vehicle letting them get off so lightly again. It’s not the important film some people seem to be claiming it to be – it’s an opportunity thoroughly missed to make us all think, or to make us laugh. It just made me depressed, for all the wrong reasons. And there wasn’t even a jazz flute solo.