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The Big Short - Condescending and About 30 Minutes Too Long

Updated on February 8, 2016

I loved Anchorman, Adam McKay’s comedy from 2004. I watched that film dozens upon dozens of times when I was younger, and I still really like it now. With The Big Short, McKay ventures into Oscar-bait drama. The Big Short follows several key people who bet against the American economy in the years right before the 2008 financial meltdown. There’s a lot to like about the movie, but the core is very condescending and overdone, nor does the film really seem to know what it wants to be.

The film follows Michael Burry (the book’s author, played here by Christian Bale), Jared Vennett, a wall street broker (Ryan Gosling), idealist Mark Baum (Steve Carell), newcomers Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock, the two best characters in the movie), who work with a former investment banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). Right off the bat the movie focuses on too many people, and is sometimes about the corruption on Wall Street and the economy, but it’s also about Charlie and Jamie trying to become bankers, but sometimes it’s about Christian Bale’s firm, and sometimes it’s about Mark mourning his brother (Marisa Tomei has two scenes in this movie and that’s all of her dialogue). The movie needed to be more focused.

The dialogue is usually very restrained, opting out of any of what would be considered “Hollywood embellishment” but there are also a lot of moments where the movie is very snide towards its audience. What McKay does is cut to a celebrity (there are a few celebrity cameos) to give a comical monologue explain what it is the characters are doing. I see what McKay is going for (it’s definitely original) when he does that but it’s unappealing and comes off as smug. Compare this to Spotlight, which was also about getting the viewer invested in a political issue, but had enough faith in its audience to just let the characters do their thing without condescending narration.

When I say the direction is overdone I’m referring to one specific thing: namely that when the movie transitions into a new year, there will be a title card followed by a montage of video clips of media from that year; maybe this was a studio decision but it should have been cut. A lot of the editing also seems as though it’s trying to be overly edgy.

I’ve went after this movie on a lot of key elements, but there really is a lot to like about The Big Short. Namely the acting, there isn’t a single weak performance here. It’s absurd how effortless Christian Bale makes jumping into his various litany of characters look, Brad Pitt gives the most human performance I’ve seen from him in a while, and Steve Carell does a great job playing a man with a searing passion. My favorite performance is probably Ryan Gosling, who is so effortless in his performance, conveying a natural movie star charisma.

What I think The Big Short should have focused on was Charlie and Jamie, they would have made good vehicles for the audience and are in all honesty, as two aspiring businessmen, the most interesting ‘characters’ the movie has to offer. The Big Short is not awful, but it’s about thirty minutes too long, and it’s too scattered.

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