Box Office Democracy: The Big Short
I probably don’t need to explain bubble economies to anyone reading this website.
In the mid-90s following a boom period, fueled by the idea that all comic books were guaranteed to increase in value, the comic book industry suffered a collapse that closed two-thirds of comic book stores nationwide. If it weren’t for their bankability as movie and TV properties, it might have forever pushed comic books to the fringes of the American consciousness. I don’t need to explain the volatility of an inflated market to a comic book fan, but if you’d like to see why the financial collapse of 2008 was the same kind of thing magnified 1000x by greed and fraud, I think you’d enjoy The Big Short.
My degree is in economics and I’ve always felt I had a good handle on the 2008 collapse (in fact, despite some of the claims in the film it wasn’t the complete surprise it’s portrayed as) but I’ve struggled to explain it to people, and The Big Short does an amazing job making complicated topics accessible. Director Adam McKay doesn’t hesitate to have characters break the fourth wall to explain the more complicated financial terms, and even brings in celebrity guests to do little vignettes demonstrating more complicated concepts providing clever and offbeat opportunities to bury some clunky exposition. That along with some healthy repetition makes the whole thing easy to understand. The Big Short is a masterful breakdown of a terrible time that I sincerely hope makes filmgoers good and angry.
Everyone in The Big Short seems to be acting as if they think every scene could end up on their Oscar reel. It’s good, but it’s good in that way where you can kind of see how much effort is going in to the performances. Steve Carell is hitting his accent just as hard as he can, and his righteous indignation burns smoldering hot. Christian Bale is playing is playing a character with Asperger’s, and his commitment to nail all the associated eccentricities is admirable but sometimes the seams show. Ryan Gosling is charming and funny and gets a higher laugh per line ratio than anyone else, and honestly probably speaks more than he has in his last three movies combined. It feels a little strange to want to ding a movie for everyone acting so well, but there was such a strong feeling of effort that was just a touch off-putting in an otherwise excellent film.
I suppose I was also a little uncomfortable with the insistence of playing so many of these characters as heroes for their role in the financial collapse. While none of them created the bubble or did anything specifically unethical, there doesn’t seem to be a herculean effort undertaken to stop it. They see something wrong, some of them make a token effort to stop it and then they make staggering amounts of money off of being right. Even Brad Pitt who seems inserted in to the movie solely to provide indignation on behalf of those who will be hurt when the economy collapses, doesn’t do anything to stop anything. If this is supposed to be a real takedown of the excesses of the system that almost destroyed the world less than a decade ago I wish it were a little harsher on the people who were simply willing to claim a slight moral high ground while pocketing nine figure sums for their trouble.