McKay Falls “Short”

Review, “The Big Short,” ** 1/2 stars (out of ****)

Releases December 11, 2015
Directed by Adam McKay
Written by McKay and Charles Randolph
Cinematography by Barry Ackroyd
Starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Marissa Tomei, Melissa Leo
Running Time: 130 minutes
Budget: $28 million

Call “The Big Short” what it is––odd, clumsy, instantly forgettable––but it’s hard to deny the passion director Adam McKay puts into his film based on Michael Lewis’s 2010 account of last decade’s housing and credit bubble. From his dogged insistence on explaining the details of the economic collapse to his blame-slinging closing cards, McKay’s first feature-length venture into political commentary spills with thoughtfulness and love for his subject matter.

Unfortunately, his desire to illuminate, educate, move, and entertain his audience all at the same damn time is far bigger than his capabilities, and McKay is forced to raid a kitchen sink filled with all the wrong tools for the job (the wigs from “Anchorman,” for example). And so the movie bumps along an uneven road for its 130-minute run time, switching from moments of hammy energy to this-really-happened moodiness on a dime. Three times, the film cuts to cameos of random media personalities like Margot Robbie and Anthony Bourdain, who awkwardly celeb-splain the financial collapse. These pandering cameos are necessary only because “The Big Short” doesn’t have the language to convey its information or emotions more cinematically. This is an unattractive movie, set in bland office buildings and shot with little flair or consistent visual style. It’s a bit confounding that such a throwaway movie got nominated for four Golden Globes this morning.

Because its characters are largely disconnected from one another, the film struggles for too long to find a cohesive plot, much less one with emotional resonance. Still, the script, written by McKay and Charles Randolph, does a decent job of differentiating its interesting characters, albeit through hairpieces and easy stereotypes (Ryan Gosling is simply a jerk, Christian Bale is just a weirdo). And the A-list cast does a dutiful job steering around the script’s elbows to find a few meaningful moments of levity and sobriety. But in the end, there’s not much their efforts or McKay’s excitement for his material can do to keep the film from falling (big?) short. Which is a shame, because the events the movie’s discussing are fascinating, tragic, shocking and ripe for big-screen discussion. Somewhere in “The Big Short’s” true-life events and data was a dramatic, relatable story about people who win in a time of loss, but it would have taken a director more adept at emotional storytelling to find it.


  1. I think you completely missed the point on WHY McKay decided to have instances where he would go to completely random cameos “on a dime”. These mood shifts, which were not unique to the cameos, but also relevant with ALL of the audio/visual distractions during the film’s expository moments, were 100% intentional.

    As the bubble was growing bigger in 2007, everyone involved with the mortgages were blind to what they consisted of. It was too confusing to understand for those buying and those selling. McKay was mirroring this sentiment in the film with cinematic tools to allow the viewer to experience the same thing the whole economy experienced – but in a way more entertaining way. If you look closely, the concepts are crystal clear – they are all just marred by everything surrounding them – just like it was in reality.

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