The 2008 global financial crash and the American housing crisis that helped cause it is perhaps not the most obvious subject matter for a generally comedic docudrama, so it’s intriguing to see the serious subject matter tackled in such an unconventional manner, and quite surprising to see it work as well as it does. Based on a 2010 book that was itself an apparently truthful summary of the bizarre events depicted, it manages to pull off this feat thanks to a completely inspired screenplay written by its director Adam McKay (who usually pitches his comedy a lot more obviously with the likes of Anchorman) and Charles Randolph (who boasts the underrated The Life of David Gale on his CV). By opting to embrace the frequent absurdities of its narrative (true though they are) through stylistic and structural flourishes, the script gets away with breaking all kinds of rules and still succeeds, much like its protagonists.

Characters frequently break the fourth wall to address the audience directly when things get too ridiculous or too complicated for the layman – in fact at several points the film goes one step further by getting celebrities (playing themselves) to interject and explain the more technical financial jargon such as collateralised debt obligations or subprime mortgages, at one point even having Margot Robbie┬áspice up such explanations by delivering them naked from a bubble bath. This wholeheartedly irreverent approach allows the script to be intensely detailed while also scathingly funny – a genuinely unique approach that makes the film just as informative as any serious documentary on the subject but also a hell of a lot more fun. Questions could rightly be asked about how “fun” such a serious subject should be, and there is an uncomfortable feeling that its protagonists don’t quite get as much criticism as they deserve, but sometimes an idea and its execution are so original you can’t help but be impressed.

THE BIG SHORT
A deeply relevant examination of a mess we are still in the process of unraveling8
Somehow also one of the funniest films of the year8
A completely brilliant screenplay by Adam McKay and Charles Randolph that breaks all manner of writing conventions10
A fine cast that make the most of the dialogue and some inspired celebrity cameos8
An uncomfortable feeling that these people shouldn't be made to look so glamorous, and these events are not all that funny really5
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
Bechdel Test Failures
  • None of the named female characters talk to each other
8Overall Score

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