When Adam McKay announced he'd be directing a satirical examination of the housing crisis in 2008 starring Brad Pitt, Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, and Ryan Gosling, a lot of head scratching took place. The resultant film, The Big Short, isn't so much a comedic satire as a loud, garish brag about losing money and the men who profited off of America's collective loss (but felt REALLY bad about it). Though McKay's thought process is highly evident, The Big Short, too often, feels like a copycat of other, far superior, films.
Four disparate financial analysts notice a bizarre trend in the U.S. housing market and decide to take advantage of it for personal gain. When the housing industry ends up collapsing, the group decides to take on the banks who allowed it to happen.
There are several competing ideas and ways of delivering complex financial ideas, some more successfully executed than others. At several points McKay utilized celebrities such as Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez to discuss dense financial elements as a means of enhancing their significance. Audiences don't care about complex terms like subprimes, but if a celebrity tells us, it must be important? It's apparent why McKay does this, but it's hard not feeling like the director is bragging about the friends he has. We're also treated to Ryan Gosling auditioning to be Jordan Belfort in Wolf of Wall Street, talking to the audience directly and acting like the film's Greek chorus. In fact, the flippant attitude, coarse dialogue, and flaunting of excess makes the entire film come off like a discount version of Wolf of Wall Street, already bad enough considering J.C. Chandor discussed the housing crisis far better in Margin Call a few years ago. At an elongated two hours the film is sliced into two distinct halves – the group waiting for the housing bubble to collapse, and the banks lack of punishment for knowing about it. Either way is worthy of its own film, and with everyone shouting at the camera about the crisis, it would have been easier for McKay to tackle one element or the other.
It's hard denying the cast appeal here, but all the characters are just smarmy men who, despite feeling bad about their actions, knowingly profit off people's pain. Carrell, especially, comes off as the pious one. Despite having Marisa Tomei as his wife and talking of his brother's suicide, all of these narrative threads seek to soften Carrell's character when they act as little more than personality traits. Christian Bale plays the nutty analyst no one takes seriously; Gosling is the cynical one, and Pitt plays the guy in the third act with a conscience. None of the characters are particularly engaging, yet the script truly believes you'll like watching this group.
I can't understand where all the love for The Big Short comes from. The film is too knowing to be satirical, and too serious to be outrightly comedic. The actors are all great, but in a cinematic landscape with so much diversity, it's hard finding interest in the story of four white men who made a lot of money.