The 2007 financial crisis has left behind not only global financial destruction and economic distress, but also lingering rage among the masses still mind boggled about the particulars of just what hell caused so much upheaval. That rage fuels the fire of Adam McKay’s The Big Short, a well-intentioned misfire that somehow aims to clarify through cacophony.
Perhaps the clang and clutter of the film’s construction is intended to reflect the over-stimulated world that we find ourselves in today, where every bit of consumerism and media drives a culture of distraction that keeps us from noticing the rug being pulled out from under us, let alone how and who is doing the pulling. But the film distracts us much in the same way: cocaine editing and zipping eyesore handheld filming prevent any type of resonance with the subject. It’s simply too much and the film buckles under the strain of withstanding such recklessness.
Worse, the film uses a narrative device of dumbing down such complexities as credit default swaps to our lesser instincts with sex appeal and reality television. Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain, and Selena Gomez give us cameo explanations to Help Us Understand the mortgage crisis – a branzenly cynical way to approach the audience that is neither witty or all that illuminating. Especially given the barely-there presence of the likes of Brad Pitt and Marisa Tomei in the film, those moments aren’t even effective as aha cameos.
The bursting cast is left to flounder, trying to match McKay’s tuneless swing for the fences. Almost every actor goes so broad in characterization that every character beat further underlines traits already hammered into the ground. Ryan Gosling comes out miles ahead of the ensemble and nails the attempted tone, garnering the most laughs and not breaking a sweat in portraying what is otherwise the most sitcom-y character in the bunch. Christian Bale and Steve Carell are strangely given the most background to work with, but the film is barely interested in examining them so they become nothing but overly mannered placeholders in a script only tangentially concerned with individuals.
The most successful story element is the upstart duo played by John Magaro and Finn Wittrock. Sharing their story chunk with stoic leader Pitt, they have the subtlety and humanity missing in a film that purports to be concerned with impact on real human beings. Also as outsiders to the big banks, they are the best source for understanding both the hows of the crisis and the impact of the fallout. The film couldn’t produce any of the rage that it ultimately does without the ease McKay brings to their portion or the natural chemistry shared between the two.
And yes, this is about inciting furious anger about what was done to us and our financial world. However, with such manic and misguided construction, the impact is dulled by a frustrating experience.