It’s the end of the world, and we know it
Anchorman writer/director Adam McKay drops – or rather adapts – his traditionally comic approach to take a scathing, satirical look at the US financial crisis of 2008 in The Big Short.Whilst those who were affected by it and lived through it – and those who studied it – will probably think that there’s little new or revealing on offer here, McKay’s Dummies’ Guide to the Housing Bubble packs a surprisingly hefty punch, charting the build-up through the eyes of a quartet of disparate hedge fund management teams and traders, largely operating independently of one another, who predicted the crash – despite being ridiculed by all around them – and bet big on it coming to fruition. Although they are not portrayed as heroes – there are no heroes in this disaster – they are our eyes into the debacle, and whilst they did aim to get rich largely off a boat-load of misery (the stat that 40,000 people would die for every 1% unemployment rises was shocking), the collapse itself was patently inevitable, and there were far bigger players who were not only in on it but intent on covering it up.The ensemble cast bring the piece to life, with Christian Bale’s portrayal of the key theorist who first figures out the impending disaster the obvious choice for top dog, although actually – surprisingly – Steve Carell’s angry man steals the show, often highlighting our own shock and disgust at the increasing layers to both the house of cards and the web of lies behind this disaster. Carell even stands out against the backdrop of Brad Pitt’s cynical expert and Ryan Gosling’s slick trader, but McKay’s energetic direction makes the most of all of the players, plotting the individual strands, then bringing them together in one great crescendo. The script is excellent – and McKay’s comic edge is arguably just what the material needs, highlighting how unbelievably ludicrous this mess was, and how much flagrant, short-sighted, negligence was involved. The end result is undeniably compelling and arguably unmissable.
Picture QualityThe Big Short excels on Blu-ray.
The 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen, looks frequently excellent, promoting a sharp and shiny image whilst retaining a surprisingly filmic edge courtesy of a fine layer of grain. Detail remains resoundingly good, lapping up skin textures and clothing flourishes, as well as the background touches, bringing the bustling offices to life. The colour scheme is strong and intermittently vibrant, remaining a natural selection of tones peppered with vivid flourishes, whilst skin tones – occasionally running a little bit hot but perhaps due to the intentionally tanned look of the key players – are also well represented. Black levels are strong, and overall this is an excellent presentation.
Sound QualityCas Harlow reviewed the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on a 5.1-channel setup – Although, on the face of it, a film covering this subject doesn’t seem designed to provide a bracing, engulfing aural element, it’s a surprisingly stylish and punchy feature, which delivers a consummately engaging track that excels even without the benefits of its ‘enhanced’ DTS:X upgrade. Dialogue remains pervasive throughout – clear and coherent and distinguishing between third person and first person speech – dominating the frontal array throughout the piece, whilst effects are often ostensibly innocuous – keyboard taps and button clicks – still manage to remain surprisingly potent in terms of delivery. There are a couple of particularly noisy elements to punch up the proceedings – including one character’s predilection towards heavy metal – but the more interesting development is the use of specific sound design to enhance sequences (there’s one great moment where Carell’s character is finding out increasingly shocking facts about the housing market, and these are so ridiculously outlandish – being bragged about by the guy talking to him – is undercut by a background track of laughter from a nearby comedy show) and indeed this is a strong, dynamic track which more than makes the most of its source material.
Thankfully Paramount’s UK release of The Big Short appears to be the same disc released across the pond – complete with the same DTS:X track.
Steve Withers reviewed the DTS:X soundtrack on a 7.2.4-channel setup – It's pleasing to see another film finally get released in the UK with a DTS:X soundtrack, even if The Big Short doesn't initially seem like an obvious choice. The only other DTS:X release on this side of the pond has been Crimson Peak with its wonderfully immersive gothic soundtrack but all the other DTS:X soundtracks have so far been reserved for US releases. Although at first a story that centres on fund managers and bankers might seem a strange film to use an immersive audio soundtrack, The Big Short is a great example of how such an approach can enhance your viewing experience without resorting to gunfire, car chases or planets blowing up.
Adam McKay's deliberately amped-up satirical approach to the material is perfectly complimented by the sound design. It's very clever in the way that the sound design is used to distinguish between dialogue and voice over, as well as the way that sound effects place you in the mind-set of certain characters. This is especially true of Steve Carrell's character, as the terrible reality of what is coming begins to dawn on him. The soundtrack renders all the atmospheric sounds with precision, immersing you in different environments, but also shifts tone with great skill as the film takes frequent asides to explain the more technical aspects of the story. The DTS:X soundtrack is a great example of how sound design can effectively help to tell the story but also emphasis the comic or satirical aspects of the narrative and all without a single explosion. Great stuff.
ExtrasFive Featurettes and five Deleted Scenes round out the package, with In the Tranches: Casting looking at the ensemble cast; The Big Leap: Adam McKay looking at the director's transition to more serious material, and the satirical edge he brought to the piece; Unlikely Heroes: The Characters of The Big Short, which explores the characters; The House of Cards: The Rise of the Fall, which dips into the collapse itself; and Getting Real: Recreating an Era skimming over the more technical elements.
Blu-ray VerdictThe Big Short's look at the short-sightedness of the money-making strategy of big lenders is a punchy exposé.
In many ways, it tells a similar arc to that other great recent Oscar contender, Spotlight, despite the disparate subject-matters, and it's easy to see why both received such high acclaim. Paramount's UK release boasts the same excellent video and superior DTS:X-enhanced audio that they delivered Stateside and both the film and disc come recommended.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.