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The Big Short (2016); And Why it Fell Short in Blowing Me Away

March 22, 2016

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It’s almost hard to believe that society once revered Wall Street brokers and investors in high esteem. The style and attitudes of the “young, urban professionals” became so commonplace that handbooks were created to celebrate the existence of Yuppies in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Meanwhile, cinema has always been around to show the shifting opinions on corporate greed ushering in films that inoculated the power and poison of Wall Street into our everyday phrases. On and off through the history of America the Wall Street loyalists found there place in the sun before feeling the scorch of it when the stock market crashed on Black Monday (or Black Tuesday) in 1987. Since then, Wall Street and its materialistic values has been on a constant rise and fall of stocks and favor with the general public. One minute they’re the evil bad guys, the next they are invisible, forgotten members of society until their next superfluous actions puts the economy on barely walkable thin-ice.

With the help of Michael Lewis’ non-fiction book of the same name, Adam McKay and his fellow screenwriting partner Charles Randolph tackle a time ten years ago when Wall Street’s greed and excess broke ground spiraling out of control and throwing innocent Americans underwater during the housing market collapse. The Big Short points all the right fingers at all the wrong decisions made by investors who blinded themselves at the thought of dollars and cents.

I liked The Big Short. I wanted to love it, honest I did. I wanted to love it the way the Academy and audiences did. But, I just couldn’t get past its conflated, showboating mode of storytelling that left me confused and slightly bored. Overall multiple elements of The Big Short prevented it from flowing at a seamless pace, mostly to the fault of McKay and editor Hank Corwin. It’s a film that feels put together by loose ends and jagged edges to make a somewhat comprehensible film about a topic that could have been explored with better precision in documentary form. Though I was entertained by the film’s crass humor and impressed by its gonads in tackling how the greed and corruption of a group of Wall Street executives brought on by an analyst who predicted the bubble would burst, The Big Short just didn’t wow me.

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McKay’s and Corwin’s dive into flashy moments and quick paced cuts is ultimately it’s biggest downfall.The Big Short feels dated, like it was a 90’s film à la Oliver Stone or David O. Russel (more specifically Three Kings, a flashy upchuck of outdated cinematics marred by sub-par story telling). The Big Short quickly becomes a flip-book film that cycles through images and moments with little rhyme or reason. Its intent is obviously to capture the essence of the time period and what was popular in an attempt to remind us this wasn’t that long ago. Nevertheless, this method backfires becoming instead a huge distraction to the story at large making much of the aesthetics an eye sore especially cinematographer Barry Ackroyd’s decision of utilizing grainy aesthetics. This odd choice has no purpose in the film’s storytelling considering The Big Short was set a mere ten years ago.


Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale fill out the cast as familiar faces that I usually enjoy seeing on-screen. Although here I couldn’t help but feel that these big names got pulled together for profits sake as most of them feel miscast in their roles. Their performances are great consisting of many hilarious lines, but overall not one of these actors felt right in their roles. Gosling, who could probably stare at a shoe in a film and I’d be front row, just doesn’t fit the sleazy, smart-ass trader Jared that he plays. Gosling barely pulls off that sham of a wig he wears throughout the film better than he does his role. Instead he comes off more hamish and silly than slick and confident. Bale isn’t nearly as impressive as I’d hope he’d be helming the film as Dr. Michael Burry, the man who first notices the numbers and bets against the housing market from greedy Wall Street players. Though Bale captures the socially awkward, casually minded Burry he simply doesn’t bring any charm or oomph to the character. Carell is by far The Big Short’s strongest player delivering glimmers of an astounding performance although even still it’s not consistent as he at times feels off and not right for the role either. The big names in The Big Short seem wasted and underdeveloped which works in the favor of the lesser known actors in smaller roles whom shine in their wake.

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The Big Short’s story is important. It’s a real life tragedy that gets scrutinized under a microscope to focus on what went wrong and how. Corporate greed, arrogance, ignorance, and pure stupidity is what led to thousands of Americans losing their homes and livelihoods. I admire McKay and Randolph’s bravery and commitment to taking off the haphazardly placed band-aid put on by the government bailout and for revealing the infected wound for what it is. I just wish The Big Short wasn’t as distracting and all over the place as it is. I get it, there’s a lot of boring jargon, numbers, and decisions that goes completely over the heads of average movie goers. Hell I’m still grappling with what equity is. But the film’s use of super quick music video like cuts, strange editing techniques, characters breaking the fourth wall, and its unstable sound mixing made it difficult for me to understand the very issues they were intending to explain.

Margot Robbie in a bubble bath and Selena Gomez didn’t help me figure out the details of subprime loans or what collarotized debt obligations are as well as the film hoped. Instead I got distracted and more confused than if just one of these random tactics got used, a tactic that those flashy Wall-Street workers used to jip innocent people into making poor decisions. Obviously this method worked for McKay earning him Best Director but for me, I still had to Wikipedia what the whole thing was about to understand much of the film.

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SEE IT. With reservations. It’s an important film that needs to be seen to outrage you into doing something and paying more attention, though overall it’s pretty lackluster. 

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