Valencia College, Lake Nona Campus

“What’s Happening Above Us” – An Analysis of Adam McKay’s film, The Big Short

Capitalism is a term that goes along with the most patriotic qualities in the United States–right along with liberty, freedom,  and baseball. The strange thing about capitalism is that it’s one of the most openly corrupt systems in place to be so highly valued in society. Capitalism welcomes crooks and billionaires into a fixed system where only the top percentage income citizens matter. Adam McKay shares this cynicism about the system, and in his newest film The Big Short, he looks to put capitalism’s biggest failure in recent history into a proper perspective that isn’t saturated by American media agenda.

Adam McKay, most famous for his previous films Anchorman and Step Brothers, surprisingly reinvents his directing style in order to create a financial film masterpiece to stand along with the likes of Wall Street and The Wolf of Wall Street. He uses much of the same tactics as these landmark films to help point out the limitless amount of lies and corruption flying above the heads of American taxpayers. It’s easy to say that we know the system is corrupt, but we also think the system is too convoluted to fully grasp what sort of reckless play is happening above us. To make these convoluted concepts as easy to understand and as entertaining as possible, McKay allows his characters to break the fourth wall to make sure the audience isn’t left behind in the sea of unfamiliar financial terminology. The characters sometimes take a break from their own explanations of the concepts to let modern day celebrities explain some of the more complex scenarios, which stand out as some of the most memorable scenes in the movie.

Possibly the only remnant of Adam McKay’s past films is his humor, which is put on incredible display here. It’s more notably a huge accomplishment in the editing room. The tonal balance of this film is damn near perfect. There’s always a sense of humor, but it never intrudes on some of the more tense situations throughout the film. There’s a huge magnitude of financial information to show all while keeping audiences interested. The editing team was hard at work to make sure this was a film that would suck audiences in and force them to get the point while having a blast. They cut some of the most rapid-fire montage transitions, managing to weave four different characters’ stories into one beautiful arc, all the while placing humor and tension in the same scenes; I’ll riot if the editing team does not win an Oscar come late February.

What wraps this film up as a masterpiece to me is McKay’s ability to slowly unveil the banks’ unchecked power within a captivating plotline. Whether the banks were too stupid to see this crisis coming or not, it wouldn’t matter. The banks were so powerful that it was inevitable they would be saved by the government and, more importantly, the everyday people that still support this destructive system with their tax money. When it’s as a plain as day that the banks are at fault, there should be something done about it. This is something that character Jared Vennet, played by Ryan Gosling, explains during a narration over a fantasy scenario of justice being served with major overhauls in place to prevent further greed. Ironically, this scenario isn’t too far-fetched of a thought, but with a system so reliant on corporate greed, it could never happen, as the film portrays when they reveal Vennet’s fantasy scenario is exactly that. This film is the story of the people who outsmarted the banks, but more importantly, this film is the story of the banks’ ability to not care and still get away with it.