In the years before the economic crisis of 2008, we follow a couple of people who bet against the economy, against the banks. No one believes that they know what they are doing, but when the crisis hits, they get rich, because they saw what was coming.
The Big Short isn’t much of a movie. It is a documentary pretending to be a movie. It offers some perfunctory shells of characters to get its messages across, but that isn’t much to hold onto. The movie ends with one of those “what happened afterwards with the characters” texts, which not only goes on for too long, but it is a mystery why the text is there, because the film didn’t really care about the characters. For example, with Steve Carell’s character (I forgot his name already) we are told how he feels, but from a distance. “He looks like he is about to explode”. The film is simply not interested in making us feel more for them.
It is quite a mystery to me why this movie is rated so highly and I think it purely has to do with the fact that it addresses an Important Issue. It is not really about the characters; they are just a couple of caricatures, although Steve Carell and Christian Bale give interesting performances. It cannot be for the editing and camerawork, which was confusing in its choices. During big moments, the camera zoomed in on characters from the side somewhere, or some random images were edited together to show the passage of time, but I didn’t really get what effect they were going for. In any case, the editing was erratic and pulled me out of the movie.
It feels even more as a documentary because some of the characters turn towards the viewers to talk about what is happening. Even some celebrity cameos are squeezed in to explain the information, but every time it puts the brakes on the movie and it was more condescending than funny. The problem is that there are already good documentaries out there about this (such as Inside Job (2010)), and this one poses as a competitor to those. Only, because the movie masquerades as a movie, it is shallower than those documentaries. A popularized version, for “the masses”, perhaps. That might have been the intention.
The Big Short makes for an odd viewing experience because there is no one to root for. In this sense, it has similarities with The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), but that movie at least had flair and panache because it was so over the top. The banks are fraudulent and evil, and our characters bet against those banks, hoping in fact that the banks are failing, to get money from them. Which would be a nice payback, were it not that they are betting against the failing of the world economy, which will cost millions of people their money and houses. So, as the climax of the movie coincides with the global economic crash, as a viewer you’ve been anticipating this moment. With a sort of grim satisfaction, we see the banks go bankrupt, and then walk away from the theatre with our heads shaking in outrage and sadness.
Which was of course the point of the movie. Will you be touched? Yes, most probably. Is it a good movie, as a movie? I don’t really see it. I think it could have been improved in more than one way. A tighter focus on one or two characters would have made it more involving, and if the intention was to reach more people that the documentaries did, then stronger characters would have helped with that.
I really can’t believe that this movie was nominated for an Oscar in editing. The editing and camerawork seemed to confuse messiness with excitement and confuse frantic montages with information. It comes across as nervous and anxious in how it tries to reach for excitement to make it all digestible. The story was told in a coherent way with a good screenplay, but other than that, I don’t see what’s so special about this one.