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Review: The Big Short




One of this year's award season mysteries is the general sense of adoration for Adam McKay's financial crash drama, The Big Short, adapted from Michael Lewis's 2010 book. Whilst it may succeed in riling audiences up in righteous indignation in its final moments, The Big Short fails to make its central focus interesting despite McKay's attempts at crafting an aesthetic energy.

Based on a screenplay from Charles Randolph and McKay, The Big Short follows the men who predicted the credit and housing market collapse of the mid-noughties and explores their frustrations towards the corporate greed of the business world.

McKay and Randolph do an impressive job at capturing the bustling tension and uncertainty of Wall Street from the perspectives of several key outsiders predicting the financial crash. There's an impending dread brooding throughout this feature, which comes and goes as McKay explores the idea that people simply didn't care about these warning signs - both the pubic and the banks - instead being distracted by general trivialities of greed and glamour (see the film's flashy celebrity cutaways - Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, Selena Gomez playing blackjack as parallel). However, instead of attempting to engage us by the frankly rather dull source material McKay decides to bombard us with a chaotic aesthetic which presumably he believes will engage us. Whether it be in the form of these fourth-wall breaking cutaways from guest stars, Ryan Gosling's Wall Street shark Jared Vennett warning us of impending events or curious scenes of Christian Bale's oddball financial wiz hammering out a drum solo or listening to roaring grunge music.

McKay so desperately wants to make the source material interesting to us - but this hits a wall through his overbearing aesthetic choices blended with a barrage of instantly unappealing financial jargon about bonds and loans - the result being a blend that never manages to grip us as an audience. Amidst this there is some neat character work that does occasionally pull us back in thanks to a sterling cast. Steve Carrell proves the standout as morally-confliced hedge fund manager Mark Baum, whilst Brad Pitt is excellent in the small role of retired banker Ben Rickert who is sick of the wall street greed mentality. Gosling's snarky confidence works more often than not, yet Bale's performance feels forced in its eccentricities and never sits right.

There's no real sensational big screen appeal to The Big Short apart from these star turns. With a visual palette that feels more HBO television drama, cinematographer Barry Ackroyd fails to give this a particularly cinematic feel. In comparison to previous financial world satire, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short's aesthetic and narrative feel sluggish and drab. Driven by the core ideology that simply wants to reconfirm our outrage, McKay's film feels like it is simply hammering home the concept that bankers and the government are greedy and working people  will always need to bail them out in our capitalist society. There's something rather patronising about being told  that by a multi-million dollar financial product - particularly in its jarring final moments that will have audiences seething with riled-up indignation.

★★★

Stars: Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carrell & Brad Pitt
Director: Adam McKay
Release: 22 January 2016
The Big Short 1287684602040283489
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