“I don’t know about anger,” he chuckles. “I was definitely amazed by the fraud, the over-confidence, the stupidity on the part of people whose brains we all assume to be huge.”
Adam is referring to Wall Street’s finest, those men, and some women, who created a whole layer of sub-prime mortgages for their nation’s homeowners, and then watched as the lending toppled over during the financial crisis of 2008, and thousands of Americans lost their homes.
“I couldn’t believe that, only a few years later, the discussion had stopped,” he adds. “These people wrecked other people’s lives, and there was no culpability.”
With such a heavyweight topic as his theme, Adam must be congratulated for pulling off an accessible satire, brought to life by his vibrant cast of Oscar-nominated Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt. The film has been nominated for five awards inc all including Best Picture. Plus, whenever the financial stuff threatens to get too complicated, Adam throws in some cameos from Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie (in a bubble bath) to help explain.
“I would describe it as a tragedy with funny moments,” is how Adam puts it. “The first half of the film concerns outsiders who discover the golden key to the castle, so that’s exciting, and there’s a ton of energy that goes with that.
“The second half, we see how it almost destroys them all, that despite getting what they’d always wanted, they didn’t feel great, they had panic attacks, they kind of betrayed themselves.”
Is there a message to this film that manages to make flawed heroes of out the players who bet against Wall Street? Adam doesn’t believe there are any real heroes in his picture, instead he wants “people to reengage with their own financial issues. The banks made everyone feel stupid. I want people standing up and challenging them on it, and for the whole subject of personal finance to feel less intimidating”.
For the real villains of this piece, Adam wants us to go further back in time, to Ronald Reagan’s administration, when political lobbyists suddenly discovered their power.
“Some smart-minded types figured out how to buy their way through Congress, deregulation occurred and we saw a huge number of laws eroded without impunity.”
Of course, any arch capitalists or apologists for Wall Street would point out that any homeowner is ultimately responsible for his or her finances, regardless of what promises are being made by a twinkly-eyed lender, but Adam’s having none of that.
“This was a predatory lending machine that cynically targeted the most vulnerable members of our society.
“The backbone of the American dream is to have your own bricks and lands, whether it be big or small, and these people exploited that dream, for the sake of their bonuses. And they got away with it.”
For a moment, for all his good humour and geniality, Adam McKay is clearly still very angry about all of this. Steve Carell wasn’t wrong.
The Big Short is in UK cinemas now. Watch the trailer below: