Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt
Run Time: 130 mins
‘The Big Short’ is director Adam McKay’s first venture out of the comedy genre and he is behind hits such as both ‘Anchorman’ films, ‘Talladega Nights’ and ‘The Other Guys’ for example. Whilst these films told the stories of chauvinistic newsreaders to immature adults, ‘The Big Short’ deals with entirely different characters, stockbrokers who bet that America will collapse into a housing crisis. The film has been nominated for multiple Academy Awards including Best Picture and Adam McKay has risen to God-status and will almost certainly be given creative freedom to make whatever film he wants.
‘The Big Short’ is a mixed bag – it is very original and has many flashes of sheer brilliance. There are some fantastic performances and McKay’s ideas are admirable. However, on the flipside, it comes off as incredibly smug and boisterous at times and it has a big identity crisis tonally. McKay isn’t quite sure what the film wants to be – at times it feels like a knock-off of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and at other times, he regresses to his comedic roots. This deeply impacts the film as tonally it feels very disjointed and feels more like a collection of scenes (some outstanding) spliced together rather than a feature length film. However, originality is what is to be admired here despite the film not hitting all the right notes.
What McKay has tried to do here is attempt to combine a very satirical black portrayal of the American housing crisis with humour. In order for the audience to keep up and understand, there are several scenes which contain celebrity cameos for example Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie who define economic terms that audiences may not be familiar with. It comes off as very ‘Wolf of Wall Street’-esque at times and sometimes the film is just aggressively unfunny and smug. This makes for a very disjointed watch and whilst individual set pieces work, the film never comes together as a whole.
The story is absolutely shocking and McKay paints a very negative and cynical portrayal of America. Some of the characters in the film are outright despicable and it is hard to support them and audiences question their morals . McKay pulls on the heartstrings faintly at one point where we see one family being made homeless, but it’s never dwelled upon enough for the audience to care more. If the film were to show just how much of an impact this crisis had, the audience would be able to empathise more on a human level. A film that does this very well is the recent ’99 Homes’ and if this film had dwelled upon the effects more, it would be so much better.
In terms of the performances, Christian Bale and Steve Carrell are the standouts, Bale in particular is an oddball of a character and he never shares scenes with the rest of the main cast. It’s a completely different role to what Bale has done before and it comes off as refreshing and innovative. Steve Carrell proves that he can be a serious actor and this is another worthy portrayal after his sinister turn in last year’s ‘Foxcatcher’. Ryan Gosling is also pretty good here but his character isn’t as well handled as the other two and Brad Pitt is fine in more of a cameo as opposed to a leading role.
Overall, ‘The Big Short’ is a challenging watch and is ultimately, disappointing but the concepts and intentions behind it are what should be applauded. This film does not deserve all the nominations and praise it is getting as it just isn’t good enough. It is one of the weakest of this year’s Oscar crop. However, when the film manages to find itself, it’s outstanding and the films standout performances from Christian Bale and Steve Carrell allow this film to be a worthwhile opportunity overall.