I would like to start off by urging anyone who hasn't yet seen the trailer for The Big Short to do so immediately. You'll find a sense of excitement and intrigue, but also a stirring sense of bewilderment. There's no denying the cast is top notch—Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt.
The combined star power of those four is enough to make The Big Short nearly impossible to ignore, but when you factor in everything else this film has going for it, I'd wager you'll go all in.
The perfect wild card of a director
Let's play another game of sorts, based purely on anticipation. The Big Short is based on the Michael Lewis's non-fiction book of the same name, which details the financial crisis of 2007–2010 and turns a spotlight on the unsustainable housing and credit bubble caused by relentless human greed. Paramount first screened the film at last month's renowned AFI Fest, and it starts its limited release on December 11, 2015 before going wide on December 23. Why are these release dates important? Well, Paramount is wisely using the awards season playbook, which shows astute confidence in their film. By the way, The Big Short was adapted for the screen and directed by Adam McKay.
So, moving along... wait a minute... Adam McKay? As in the same Adam McKay who directed those silly but hysterical Will Ferrell comedies Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers? You may think this decision sounds peculiar. After all, what has McKay done in the past to prove he can take on such a big subject? Also, I don't think there's ever been a dramatic scene in any of his previous films.... ever!?
Let any doubt be put to rest right now. I've been lucky enough to see The Big Short twice, once with an Adam McKay Q&A afterwards, and he's ready. As a matter of fact, McKay is the perfect choice for this material. It's an angry, funny, furiously brilliant film, that may very well be the defining film about the American financial crisis.
The surprising satisfaction of confrontational storytelling
Within the first few minutes of The Big Short, McKay denies the audience the luxury that is suspension of disbelief. The unexpected heroes regularly break from the events of scene and address the audience directly. At times alerting us that what we are watching has been greatly dramatized, but more often they reassure us that Mark Baum's (Steve Carell) righteous rants on fraud and ignorance really happened.
It's a borderline overwhelming pastiche of pop culture images, early 2000s music, and bombastic white guys reminding us how much we remember about Britney Spears's heydey along with how little we recall about the bankers that collapsed our economy. The Big Short is guaranteed to start a conversation about corruption and fraudulent dealings on Wall Street, at least until Britney does something more interesting.
The ensemble of the year
If you love the kind of acting where leading male movie stars shed all of their glamour to get down and dirty for a project they think is worth while, you're in for a major treat.
Bale, Gosling, and Carell show off bravado, playing their jerk characters with gusto and humor. What's interesting is that the actor most associated with straightforward comedy, Carell, gets the meatiest, most layered part in the film. Proving that his incredible change of pace performance in last year's Foxcatcher was no joke, Carell will likely be invited back to the Oscar ceremony this year as a viable nominee.
Adam McKay may be the film's wild card, but Brad Pitt is its true hero. Pitt's production company, Plan B, was instrumental in getting this film made with these actors and this filmmaker. Pitt, as hugely successful as he is, has always been a champion of artistic integrity. In The Big Short, Pitt the performer gets to show more nuance than ever before. It's a quiet, downbeat kind of performance, but one that works quite well considering mostly every other Wall Street character is a scene-stealing ass (in the most lovable way).
Pitt's movie star moment for this film ironically didn't happen on screen, but at last month's AFI Fest when he proudly proclaimed why this film matters. Take note kids, this is what a real movie star sounds like:
“It’s a story that needs to be told because nothing has changed.”
With powerhouse performances, a pitch-perfect writer/director, and a topical story that continues to resonate, The Big Short is the first sure bet of the year.