By John Campbell
This is a radical departure for Adam McKay. Having co-written and directed comedies in the style of Talladega Nights, Anchorman and The Other Guys, he has turned his hand to hard-hitting drama and the result is, if sometimes overtly showy, a testosterone-driven film of ugly truths and blistering rage.
Wearing his heart on his sleeve, he makes a full-frontal attack on the criminally amoral mindset of Wall Street and the boundless greed of bankers. The story deals with the brewing financial storm that finally broke as the 2007 Global Financial Crisis (through which the Labor government steered Australia unscathed) … America’s housing bubble, while making plenty of people at the big end of town rich, has been kept afloat by shonky mortgages that are destined to fail, and when they do they will bring the whole US economy down.
Michael Burry (Christian Bale) is a maverick hedge fund manager with a glass eye and an ear for heavy metal rock (the scene in which he thrashes a drum kit in accompaniment to a song he’s listening to through his plugs is gold). He can read the indicators and makes investments that are counterintuitive to the market’s thrust but which will reap billions when the crash comes. A handful of others follow suit, including the crusading, short-fused broker Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and mercenary pragmatist Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who introduces the narrative as the omniscient narrator.
That proceedings are halted from time to time so that Vennett might address the viewer – as in a Shakespearean soliloquy – is one of a handful of devices that are too cute for their own good. For some unfathomable reason, McKay also has Margot Robbie as herself in a bubble bath, and Anthony Bourdain in his kitchen speak directly to camera to explain the financial world’s impenetrable jargon.
This and other gimmicks tend to stain with inappropriate kitsch a crisis of belief that hoped for a cleansing resolution but, as history has shown, was swamped by the moneybags of l’ancien régime.