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Film review: The Big Short finds canny humour in global economic meltdown

Adaptation of Michael Lewis’ account of the 2008 financial crisis is well acted and cleverly written and directed, managing to be both funny and angry about the victims of the global meltdown

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 January, 2016, 12:18pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 January, 2016, 5:03pm

A film about the global economic meltdown is hardly ripe for laughs. So it might seem an odd proposition for Anchorman director Adam McKay or, for that matter, comic actor Steve Carell. But The Big Short, based on Michael Lewis’ best-selling real-life account of the crisis, uses humour in the most canny of ways.

With a spiky voice-over by Ryan Gosling’s alpha-male banker, McKay and Charles Randolph’s script makes the brave decision to break the fourth wall, using to-camera asides and cut-aways, as celebrities, from Margot Robbie to Selena Gomez, pop up to explain Wall Street jargon. Glib though this may sound, it’s a smart way of easing audiences into a story hingeing on financial matters far beyond the layman.

SEE ALSO: How Oscar contender The Big Short made a comedy-drama out of a crisis

Also hiding behind the buoyant comic tone is increasing anger, as the characters come to realise that the US housing market is teetering on the brink and nobody cares. Amongst them are Christian Bale’s near-autistic number-cruncher, Carell’s short-fused hedge-fund manager and Brad Pitt’s ex-banker, who all, separately, hit on the idea that they can bet against the supposedly rock-solid sub-prime mortgage market.

If this sounds like Ocean’s 11 for financiers, McKay never lets us – or them – forget that real people will lose their homes, jobs and even lives when the bubble finally bursts. It’s a fine feat of screenwriting, particularly given its ‘heroes’ are bankers about to get rich on public misery. With credible performances, notably Carell, this is one Hollywood film that doesn’t come up short.

The Big Short opens January 21