For me, Adam McKay’s The Big Short did exactly what it was supposed to do: I am extremely pissed off. Extremely pissed off that banks took advantage of the American people with predatory loans in the early 2000s. Extremely pissed off that a bunch of self-styled “weirdos” and “outsiders” took this as a cue to make a shitload of money, taking advantage of the advantage-takers. Extremely pissed off that none of the assholes involved faced any consequences for their actions. Extremely pissed off that it took such a fucking terrible movie to remind us that this happened. Because The Big Short is just that: a reminder. It pretends to be an exposé but it isn’t; anyone old enough to watch an R-rated movie is old enough to have at least been alive for (and probably affected by) the housing crisis and The Big Short is here to rub their noses in it. “Hey, remember that time about ten years ago when countless families lost their homes due to the duplicity of mortgage lenders? Here’s a movie about a bunch of pricks that made millions of dollars off that. Isn’t that HILARIOUS?” I should have loved this movie. None of the characters are good people (though Brad Pitt’s character certainly considers himself above the rest of them, morally-speaking), no one learns anything or grows as a human being, and the world is exposed as the ugly, dog-eat-dog place that it is. I also generally enjoy Adam McKay’s dumb comedies with Will Ferrell and pretty much everything with The Big Short’s four big names, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carrell, and Brad Pitt. Hell, I even liked Brad Pitt in Moneyball. So, aside from the above-mentioned basic objections to the subject matter, where does The Big Short go wrong? Adam McKay is a director who thrives on the use of color in his filmmaking aesthetic. Films like Anchorman and Talladega Nights work because McKay controls their rich color palettes (especially that of the gaudy décor in the 70s-set Anchorman) and allows the visuals to pop without distracting from the shenanigans on screen. In The Big Short, by contrast, he forgets what colors are. Suddenly, his world is drab, everything a muted gray, beige, or navy, lit by flickering fluorescents like the entire city of New York became one giant morgue between 2005 and 2008. All that wonderful color has been completely drained from Adam McKay’s cinematic universe; the only thing worth looking at in The Big Short is a dye-job that makes Ryan Gosling look like Creed Bratton in the episode of The Office where he uses all the toner in the copier to make himself look younger. Aesthetic failures aside, The Big Short is a jumbled mess masquerading as a slick, fast-paced drama. The film tries to hide its complete lack of inventiveness behind a fog of pointless celebrity cameos and a thick layer of obfuscating industry jargon and double-talk that it wants you to believe is clever dialogue. It was enough to fool the Academy into giving McKay and co-screenwriter Charles Randolph an Adapted Screenplay Oscar but here in the real world it makes The Big Short’s 2 hour-plus running time feel much longer. Between being boring to look at, talking down to its audience, having zero likable characters, and lionizing a crew of detestable ghouls, fuck this movie.
Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt