Director: Adam McKay
Cast: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Max Greenfield, Selena Gomez, Karen Gillan, Finn Wittrock, Melissa Leo, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Margot Robbie
Running Time: 130 mins
Release Date: January 22nd, 2016
THE BIG SHORT is an 80% movie. THE BIG SHORT is a kind of funny movie. It’s a kind of clever movie about very clever people. THE BIG SHORT is a kind of a lot of things. THE BIG SHORT is an 80% movie. I loved it. Imagine if it were a 100% movie…
THE BIG SHORT, due out in UK cinemas on the 22nd January, directed by Adam McKay and starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, is a film that is easy to like, a little harder to love (I found a way), but unequivocally easy to like. The movie, based on the book of the same name, tells the tale of the global terror that was the 2007/08 financial crisis and housing market bubble. It tells the tale in the most unique way it can think of about the men who figured it all out. It’s quite the story and truly fascinating stuff, a subject I will admit knowing very little about, which worked out kind of well as one of THE BIG SHORT’s best qualities is how it handles information, or rather, how it takes that information, its jargon, and translates it over to the audience, often in rather amusing ways. Having Margot Robbie appear in a fly by cameo to explain some of the minutia of the housing market to the audience, while lounging around in a bubble bath, is a pretty fantastic idea, simultaneously making a normally dull subject amusing while displaying that McKay knows this topic is heavy and that for the film to have the biggest impact it could; it would need a little help relaying the finer details.
THE BIG SHORT is filled with moments like this, kind of unique, clever ways of storytelling that sets the movie apart from its contemporaries. There isn’t another film shot and cut like this in cinemas right now, a fact that helps levitate it above where it may have been otherwise. THE BIG SHORT could have easily been a very different movie indeed, and the direction they ended up going in was one hundred percent the right choice, a choice that should be commended as much as the finished film itself.
If one were to put together a checklist, compiling the components that make a film work, the necessary details that are required to make a winning movie, THE BIG SHORT would be receiving a lot of ticks. The film sounds wonderful, the score, the mixing, all fantastic. The film’s editing — undoubtedly the most impressive part of the film — is snappy, different, always keeping the audience engaged and guessing at what might be shown next. The directing is more than sound, the cinematography very competent. All of these things work very nicely indeed. They are effective both singularly and together. What this film will be remembered for however, are the characters that inhabit it, and the actors that bring them to life.
The performances contained within this film (and they are contained) is universally on point, some even better than that. There is nothing wrong with any of the acting in this film. In fact, a couple of the stars are getting some very nice attention for their work. No grievances there. Christian Bale as Michael Burry is undoubtedly the films stand out. Bale is close to his best here — close. He delivers a strange, off beat performance as a socially awkward genius that could have been magnificent, but through no fault of his own, finds himself staring up at a glass ceiling — the limits the movie implements on him with its ensemble focus. With more screen time, what turned out to be a very intriguing glimpse at a very intriguing man, could have been something a whole lot more, maybe even something very special. Bale was excellent here, he was, he was actually close to great, becoming emblematic of the film itself.
As for THE BIG SHORT’s other stars — as mentioned — they all delivered. Steve Carell is an angry Steve Carell. Ryan Gosling is… Ryan Gosling (never a bad thing). Brad Pitt plays a grumpy Brad Pitt. They are all fine. But Bale is the only one who isn’t himself up there. He is the only one who truly created something, something that is detached from himself. Perhaps that was just the writing of the character, that’s more than possible, it’s actually more than probable, but regardless, the spotlight falls to him, however his character isn’t innocent of the films biggest flaws.
There are really just only two characters inhabiting THE BIG SHORT. No discredit to the other actors, but Bale and Carell are the only two actors given characters with substance, with a depth worth looking at. The rest are frankly just faces with funny lines. This isn’t necessarily egregious, not if the two ‘leads’ are given the right treatment. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case here. The movie moves at such a pace, stacked and packed with so much information, laughs and beats, that a few things are ultimately left a little behind. A victim of the films energy, the character moments, the parts of the film that are vital in turning a face with funny lines into something more, feel like just a second thought. The characters of Bale and Carell are given these moments, but they kind of feel, in a way, sort of not required, just slipped in at the very last, like someone said, “Oh yeah! They need to be fully formed people!” To the film’s credit, this isn’t a deal breaker and rather strangely, I can’t help but think the film would have been better off without the ‘tender/human’ moments that are provided, particularly via Carell’s character. That’s a kind of unique situation for a film to find itself in. But again, THE BIG SHORT is a kind of unique film.
It says something about 2015, about this current awards season, that even being an 80% movie, THE BIG SHORT is at the very top of the year’s best features. Hell, it could be THE best. And maybe that’s not saying much but at least THE BIG SHORT says something, something worth listening to, and that’s something more than the overwhelming majority of 2015’s other prestige films can claim. But THE BIG SHORT isn’t like those other movies, it, like Bale’s character, is a little different, a little weird, and not quite operating on the same frequency as everyone else. Sure, it and he, can blend in a little if they want, maybe for a while, but this outsider vibe, this is what helped Michael Burry figure out the mess that was hidden during this most disastrous of crises, and that same quality is what helps THE BIG SHORT find its way.
The past twelve months have been pretty darn dire for movies, and THE BIG SHORT isn’t any kind of saviour, it’s no Don Quixote, but it is very good, close to much more than that. It’s close to being a lot of things. THE BIG SHORT is an 80% movie. I loved it. Imagine if it were a 100% movie…