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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Big Short and Adam McKay's Hatred of Big Banks

Before The Big Short, writer/director Adam McKay has made five films: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Stepbrothers, The Other Guys, and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Outside of the plethora of semi-colons and Will Ferrell, the one thing these films all have in common is that they're fairly broad, slapstick, goofball comedies.

Then McKay did something incredible and out-of-the-ordinary, he made The Big Short starring four Oscar nominees (and a movie not starring Will Ferrell). The Big Short is based upon the book by Michael Lewis and it earned 5 Oscar nominations including a Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay nod for McKay and a Best Picture nod for the film itself. Let's put this into perspective, a film made by the guy who started Funny or Die and the director of Stepbrothers has an Oscar nomination and made an Oscar nominated film, wrote an Oscar nominated script and directed an Oscar nominated performance. It would not be false advertising to say "From Oscar nominated director Adam McKay comes Anchorman 3: The Legend Finally Comes To An End." Yet despite all of the surprises, The Big Short is a great film and the only person who could have made it great was Adam McKay.

There were a lot of surprises with The Big Short, but probably nobody was more surprised than Michael Lewis himself. As Lewis discussed with Vanity Fair, he had difficulty himself making a book about something so complicated that comes across as easily digestible so someone like his mother could understand and enjoy it. The reasons behind America's financial collapse in the mid-2000's is incredibly complicated that not only explaining it in a book proved to be difficult, making about a movie about it seemed damn near impossible. Lewis was convinced that The Big Short would never be made into a movie, yet here we are in 2016 discussing how great Adam McKay's The Big Short is. And really, the only reason the film is as good as it is is because of Adam McKay.

The main reason The Big Short works as well as it does is because of how funny it is. The film is basically one long Economics Class (my dad felt like he was back earning his MBA watching this movie). It has to explain the economic realities to help understand how and why a bunch of people made money off of the real estate bubble. Unlike most movies, it can't do it within the first act or a brief exposition statement. It literally takes the entire film. To help get an audience to sit through this lecture, it has to keep them engaged. In order to keep them engaged, it has to make them laugh. And Adam McKay certainly knows how to make people laugh.

The other main reason The Big Short is perfect for McKay is because of McKay's hatred for the big banks. For as much of a surprise as it was for a former SNL comedy director to make an Oscar nominated film, it probably should not have been a surprise that Adam McKay made this film. Adam McKay has shown his disdain for The Big Banks in The Other Guys and 2015's Get Hard. While a lot of the humor in The Other Guys comes from the disparity between Mark Wahlberg's tough guy versus Will Ferrell's button-up tight wad, the plot of the film is the two tracking down a robbery used as the cover up for corporate greed and fraud. The ending credits of the film is a bunch anti corporate greed animation and statistics over Rage Against The Machine's "Maggie's Farm". If you watch The Other Guys today, you realize the entire film is a comedy pretext against corporate greed.

While The Other Guys takes the cops perspective, Get Hard is seen from the corporate criminal's perspective. In Get Hard, Will Ferrell plays a hedge fund manager who gets framed for insider trading. While McKay didn't write or direct Get Hard, he did produce it and you do see his fingerprints on the film. There are lines dropped by minor characters like when the Judge that sentences Will Ferrell's character says something like how White Collar criminals have gotten off light which is why Ferrell gets such a harsh sentence or Ron Funches' gang member character discussing about how the bankers are the real criminals where you see, "oh right, this is why Adam McKay produced this film."

Adam McKay's hatred of Big Banks and the status quo shines through in The Big Short, which is another reason why it works so well. Great films need to generate some sort of emotional reaction out of its audience, and while a funny and entertaining Econ lecture is good, it's the film's ability to draw ire and anger out of its audience that puts the film over the edge. I saw this film with a friend of mine, and he was speechless for the next 15-30 minutes after the film because of how much it made his blood boil. And it should. You should get angry and you do feel Adam McKay's hatred of this corruption. And it's that anger that makes The Big Short one of the best films of 2015.

On paper, The Big Short should not have worked. It was written and directed by a guy who makes Will Ferrell movies based upon a book discussing the intricacies and nuances of America's economy. Yet it just does, and it does because it got the perfect writer and director for the job. Adam McKay was able to take a college lecture with two-dimensional characters and a flimsy story and turn it into an important and entertaining film in which you deeply care about an end result you already know is coming. McKay was able to take the totality of his past writing and film-making experiences and turn it into a great film nominated for multiple Academy Awards.



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