As much as it wants to be, The Big Short is nowhere near being as entertaining as Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, but it still manages to make for an engaging cinematic venture, despite being morally skewed to the nth degree. This is mainly because of the talents that McKay has on his hands. While Bale and especially Carell do not give the best of performances, their fluency with the actors that surround helps to avoid the drab moments that can come with quasi-intellectual economic babble.
I am still unable to buy into the idea of Carell working in a dramatic role. His approach to acting just has this inescapable comic undertone that even in such attempted efforts in seriousness like Bennett Miller’s suicidally terrible, Foxcatcher, he still manages to feel like a comedic character. His performance in Foxcatcher made for an astonishingly absorbing cinematic experience for me after I accepted how comedically mismatched his performance was with the film and just viewed it as a comedic triumph.
Since McKay was clearly unable to succeed in switching over from his raunchier comedy to attempt at something much more severe in nature as he takes on relatively factual subject matter. That really isn’t saying much because almost everything looks more austere in its approach when comparing it to the likes of Anchorman, Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, and the other catastrophic disasters that McKay has continuously been making for over ten years now.
The main fault with McKay’s latest effort is how utterly manipulative his approach is from the get-go. He wants his audience to sympathize with the men who brought down the economy by showing us that they actually aren’t the monsters that the media made them out to be. I was puzzled by McKay’s approach of diving into the personal life of Carrel’s character, in particular, but never utilizing the tragic event that happened in his life in any way, shape, or form. There is no emotional connection with these characters, so it makes no sense to why McKay never expanded upon this area in his life.
Watching how all of the characters put their livelihood and their families on the line to gamble with a significant amount of money carries no real stakes to it. Instead, it just feels like you are observing a terribly written business deal of caricatures you hardly know at this point in the film. McKay panders to the average consumer in the most disgustingly transparent way. I’m drawing a blank when attempting to think of screenplays that scream out being an adaptation of a novel more than this. As a director, McKay is inept in adapting the novelistic properties that the source material possesses. Since McKay is such an incompetent filmmaker, he decides to cut away to celebrities explaining what he is incapable of inserting into his script, which emulates a very rough first draft that is in desperate need of condensing.
While The Big Short avoids falling into the rest of McKay’s misfires in comedy, this still has quite a bit of comedy prevalent throughout the course of the film. Since McKay is locked down to a much more grounded environment compared to his other films, the comedy avoids going into ridiculous circumstances that drag on for far too long. Since McKay is much more grounded than in his previous work, he is unable to present bombastic scenes of comedy that are not believable, which has always been the main problem in his earlier work in which he would carry on scenes of intended comic hilarity for far too long.
In The Big Short, the majority of the comedy is delivered through Gosling’s character, who is absolutely fabulous here. It’s so nice to see him back in a fitting role. Gosling’s comedic timing and delivery of his one-liners undoubtedly help to make The Big Shortgo by at a very snappy pace. Along with Gosling’s performance, Pitt is also exceptional here. McKay never utilizes his character to his potential, but Pitt’s minimal presence is still enough to make the whole ordeal, even more, worthwhile.
While the 130-minute display of constant manipulation is morally unacceptable, there’s something here that makes for an unquestionably captivating experience. McKay knows how to captivate the viewer, but he is unable to craft a film that is sufficient in accomplishing the primary duties that every single film needs to do. If he were to have collaborated with someone who had even a basic understanding of filmmaking and a broader knowledge of economics in a way that could have been used to avoid pandering down to those not familiar with Collateral Debt Obligations and Credit Defaults Swaps, The Big Short could have not only been an entertaining experience, but a genuinely great piece of narrative filmmaking.