Whenever anyone asked me what I thought of Vice in the last few weeks my go to answer would always be “it wasn’t as good as The Big Short“. It’s something I said because I truly thought it was my opinion. But when I looked back at my review of Adam McKay’s previous Oscar nominated film, I discovered that I’d been more scathing of it than my memory lead me to believe. I guess I do remember feeling a bit weird at the end of it because the people who gained from so much misery were being portrayed as heroic. Still, I decided it was important to rewatch The Big Short to really answer the question “is it better than Vice?” Or have I just been lying to everyone for ages? I don’t know why I’m pretending there’s any suspense here because you can see from my above rating that, yes, I preferred this film to Vice. But, why?
The Big Short takes on the daunting task of trying to explain why the 2008 financial crisis happened. There is a lot of technical stuff to get through when talking about subprime mortgages and CDOs. It’s complicated and Adam McKay knows it. In order to help the audience digest the information in a fun way, he utilises the help of cameos from Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez, and economist Richard Thaler. These individuals break the fourth wall in order to help our narrator explain tough concepts to the audience. And let’s be honest, they are some of the most memorable scenes in the whole film. Who can even talk about The Big Short without talking about Margot Robbie sitting in a bath, drinking champagne, and telling us to “fuck off”? It’s iconic.
But even with his quirky little ways, Adam McKay still has a difficult job to do with this film. There is a lot going on and loads of different story lines to juggle. Each on is separate but interconnected so it’s a bit of a mind fuck jumping between them. I’m not convinced it always works but it could have been a lot worse. The ensemble cast are all pretty good, non more so than Christian Bale who is weirdly captivating as the socially awkward Michael Burry. This film is full of big name stars and each of them brings something brilliant and, often, unexpected to the table. I mean we all loved Brad Pitt a little more after Burn After Reading but seeing him play the germaphobe ex-trader Ben Rickert I finally became a fully fledged Brad fan.
The Big Short does a remarkable job keeping such a horrible, tragic, and morally questionable story as funny as he does. McKay’s direction is energetic and ensures the film doesn’t get bogged down by its own technical side. His little cutaways and snippets of pop culture are wonderful additions that make the story fly without feeling too gimmicky. Something that I’m not sure can be said about the similar techniques in Vice. Whether it’s the storylines or just the way it’s been used, I don’t know. But Vice didn’t feel like the right vehicle for McKay’s odd style of storytelling. The Big Short does.
So, yeah, I did like The Big Short more than McKay’s latest film but, I have to say, this second viewing did confirm my initial reservations. I get that the film is trying to indict everyone who let this happen whilst also making us question the whole money-grabbing attitude. And, whilst I don’t think it exactly praises the way that Burry or co. made their money off other people’s misfortunes, I don’t think it quite goes far enough to judge their actions. There is almost too much fun here and not enough criticism. And I still find that problematic.