Your family name, “Lax”, would be ironic in any profession where attention to detail is essential to the job. In your case, you might over-compensate by vigilantly triple-checking every ledger, just to make sure no one can accuse you of succumbing to your careless moniker. Or you might go the other way, embracing your brand so hard (by becoming, say, a well-known amoral number cruncher), that the combination of title and purpose seems predestined. You know, like discovering that some Wall Street traders bet on the collapse of the entire financial system and made out like bandits.
Herein lies the central narrative for The Big Short. Based on the true events of a handful of outsiders who saw the mortgage housing meltdown coming and banked its collapse, we get an oddball story told with such untethered glee that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the crazy. No small feat considering the unsexy source material.
See, the whole vocabulary of the banking system might be second nature to people like you, but its intellectual anesthesia for the rest of us. So of course we’re happy to play along when Margo Robbie spells something out for us in a bubble bath, or Anthony Bourdain chops up a tasty metaphor. These are the types of flourishes that help elevate The Big Short from just another straight forward drama or low-brow comedy, into a rousing genre-bending piece of entertainment.
The mad man behind the camera, Adam Mackay, directs every scene with the careless confidence of a high-rolling hedge fund manager. He knows he has A-list stars to spare, which allows him to be almost reckless in their treatment. Christian Bale leans hard into his glass eye for maximum eccentricity. Ryan Gosling smooth talks directly into the camera with excessive smarm. Steve Carell seethes in every scene, waiting for any chance to go off. Brad Pitt mumbles life-changing advice from behind his financial- guru beard. Then there’s his visual approach which uses every trick in the book – zooms, flares, flash frames, stock footage, smash cuts, breaking the fourth wall – and you’ve got either the recipe for a filmmaking disaster, or a longshot success.
Well, cha ching.
The Big Short believes in its approach and capitalizes on the chances it takes. The subject matter is serviced thoroughly without ever sacrificing a laugh. It’s a rare example of being both creative and responsible to your shareholders – in this case, the audience – who have put their money and confidence in the returns being promised. For once, the laugh isn’t being had at our expense.