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The Big Short review: Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale deliver comic hit to capitalism

★★★½

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Trailer: The Big Short

A look inside the lives of the men involved in a worldwide economic breakdown - and won bets on it.

As a close collaborator of Will Ferrell, writer-director Adam McKay is responsible for some of the funniest moments in modern Hollywood cinema.

However, he has always had an earnest political side, which comes to the fore in The Big Short, a comedy of a drier sort, adapted from a non-fiction book by journalist Michael Lewis.

Reviewer rating

Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Name The Big Short
Genre Biopic, Drama
Director Adam McKay
Screen Writer
Actors Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling
OFLC rating M
Year 2015
Language
Synposis

Four denizens of the world of high-finance predict the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight.

Full synopsis

Ambitiously, the film aims to depict the lead-up to the 2008 global financial crisis, explaining what went wrong so that even ignoramuses can understand.

There's a reason economics is known as "the dismal science" and like many artists before him, McKay runs up against a problem which may be impossible to solve: how do you tell a story about individuals which also reveals the abstract logic of capitalism? More simply, how do you find visual interest in the spectacle of middle-aged guys sitting around in offices?

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Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

Christian Bale as Michael Burry in The Big Short. 

Christian Bale as the eccentric Michael Burry in <i>The Big Short</i>.
Christian Bale as the eccentric Michael Burry in The Big ShortPhoto: Jaap Buitendijk

McKay's solution owes something to Martin Scorsese and rather more to Michael Winterbottom (especially Winterbottom's films with Steve Coogan).

His nervous style is strong on rapid zooms and wobbly close-ups, with some deliberately incongruous soundtrack choices, such as The Polyphonic Spree's cover of Nirvana's Lithium, thrown in as we hop from one subplot to the next.

For all its liveliness, The Big Short can be heavy going: the dialogue remains weighed down with jargon, and the storytelling gimmicks distract more than they clarify.

Still, McKay hasn't lost his touch as a director of comic performances, and the didactic format lets him shake off a lot of sodden Hollywood convention: the characters aren't required to learn spiritual lessons or even be particularly likeable.

Indeed, the comic premise here is that the financial system can only truly be grasped by weirdos: guys with savant-like qualities and a corresponding lack of social skills. Hence the involvement of leading men Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale and Steve Carell, who, in their different ways, share a knack for appearing antisocial and emotionally detached.

All three are assigned ridiculous haircuts; McKay has special fun spoiling Gosling's good looks, casting him as trader Jared Vennett, a permed sleaze who views himself as a mighty smooth operator.

Vennett is the film's narrator, albeit an openly unreliable one, breaking the fourth wall to point out that, in reality, he would never have mixed with colleagues after work.

Left to right: Steve Carell plays Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises 	Left to right: Steve Carell plays Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

Steve Carell, left, plays Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling is Jared Vennett in The Big Short. 

Meanwhile, Bale appears to be having the time of his life as hedge fund manager Michael Burry, an eccentric genius who dresses like a slacker and has some of the strangest speech rhythms this side of Crispin Glover.

Burry sees investment strategy as a strictly mathematical problem, and hardly cares about anything except proving his own cleverness.

In this, he's the opposite of Carell's character, Mark Baum, a banker with a conscience who can't believe the corruption and stupidity he encounters on all sides.

Carell has the gift of making obnoxiousness endearing, and McKay lets him rage against the machine as much as anyone plausibly can in this mileu, speaking in a choked snarl that suggests an enraged Fozzie Bear.