Adam McKay’s hyperactive Wall Street drama is impressively unique, but fails to be as engaging as it should be.
Falling somewhere right between J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, this attempt at a flashy banking crisis drama from Anchorman director Adam McKay is a strange, ugly beast that is unfathomable in its insistence on experimentation, and painfully desperate to please to the extent that it rarely pleases at all.
We begin in New York, 2005, with narrator Ryan Gosling breaking the fourth wall and bombarding the audience with topical references and self-aware acknowledgement of the film’s purpose. In the hands of the right director, this could have been hip, smart and engaging. McKay, however, has never been a master of cinematic innovation, and messing with formula in this way does his style no favours. Soon after we are introduced to Christian Bale (complete with tragicomic childhood sob-story!) and Steve Carell’s characters, McKay propels us into an at-times aggressively manic opera of greed, hatred and more greed. Bale is the nastiest he’s ever been, Carell the seemingly moralistic Decent Guy. Neither are at their best, and the arrival of Brad Pitt in a small role during the second act does little to satisfy one’s craving for a high standard of ensemble acting.
Where Margin Call was a fast-paced, quick-witted Sorkinian office thriller with sympathetic, identifiable central characters and Wolf of Wall Street had bombast and crudity on its side, The Big Short falls flat upon every risk it takes. It aims to bypass explanations of complex economic jargon with unfunny gimmicks (Margot Robbie in a bubble bash giving definitions, anyone?), but merely befuddles the viewer with rushed overviews of seemingly irrelevant topics, long before they actually become relevant to the drama. The film jumps from one overwrought argument to the next, never slowing for long enough to give the audience (a) the opportunity to give a sh*t about the characters or (b) comprehend how the depicted scenario relates to their own recent financial woe. McKay has seemingly set out to make a scathing commentary on what happened on Wall Street and around the world in the mid-2000s, but nothing in The Big Short is ever explored in enough depth to hit home. It’s too long, yet far too fast: maybe this is intentional, symbolising the messy behaviour of the people who ruined the world economy. If so, Adam McKay should warn us next time he tries to make something so shockingly unique.