Of the myriad types of movies that can be made about Wall Street, it seems like you can either go the Wolf of Wall Street route—bright, energetic, lots of swearing—or you can go the Margin Call route—darkly serious, brooding, lots of swearing—although, interestingly, it seems like Adam McKay’s latest feature, The Big Short, melds the two approaches—with surprisingly positive results.
McKay’s long filmography, filled with both directing and writing credits, is mostly filled with comedies thanks to his long-time comedic partnership with America’s sweetheart, Will Farrell. Unfettered by Farrell’s undeniably limited range, and with a big, roomy ensemble cast to work with, McKay proves just how acerbic his wit can be. Dialogue, mostly in the form of inner-office banter, and McKay’s refreshing manipulation of the fourth wall as well as editing for comedic effect ultimately does the film tremendous credit, and likewise goes a long way in making The Big Short one of the funniest movies I’ve seen all year.
Acting is top-notch across the board, with the standouts for me being Christian Bale’s neurotic, socially awkward Michael Burry, M.D., as well as Steve Carell’s brash, pugnacious Mark Baum. Indeed, Carell’s performance is so convincing that not once was I reminded of Carell’s Michael Scott, whom I’d watched for years on TV; although, in retrospect, putting Michael Scott in The Big Short would have been a whole new kind of humor. Carell’s ability to so completely and convincingly adopt such transformative roles is a pleasure to watch, and I’m really looking forward to whatever he’ll surprise us with next.
Well, since that’s out of the way, let’s talk some trash. As I mentioned in my opening, The Big Short is very deliberately a clash of tone: loud and energetic for Acts I and II, and somber and depressing in the third act when shit really hits the fan. Apart from metaphorically slamming on the breaks as far as pacing is concerned, I don’t really have too much of a problem with that in and of itself. The real issue is that the film becomes obnoxiously preachy as we head into falling-action territory (again, not necessarily a problem on its own.) What ends up derailing the experience somewhat is that the audience is already onboard as far as the film’s theme and message is concerned; that is, banks are greedy, government is corrupt, they’re all in bed with one another, etc. My point is that the film spends two hours making damn sure that we’re rooting for the good guys and booing the bad guys, but then basically explains the message in some really clunky voice over exposition. It’s basically the film telling us how we should feel, as opposed to, you know, just making us feel something.
Another particularly subjective complaint is what Andrew referred to as “the Sandlot ending,” which is to say, white on black text explaining what the characters are doing now, after the fact. In my opinion, it’s an unnecessary addition that smashes the otherwise decent pacing across the face with a brick. Moreover, it kind of undermines the tone of uncertainty and anxiety that the third act had established, and generally makes the peter out. Start strong, end strong: that’s what I say. If you’re going to have some filler material in your movie, makes sure it goes in the middle bits that no-one will remember.
Ultimately, these minor criticisms didn’t subtract too severely from my enjoyment of the film, and, in this instance, consider everything that I didn’t mention perfectly fine, engaging, evocative, and all the other words that critics like to throw around. If you can spare the cash, The Big Short provides the wit and charm that most other comedies seem to have been lacking this year.
Rating: 4 out of 5