When Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Christian Bale and Brad Pitt headline a film, expectations will obviously run high. Especially when said film beats out Straight Outta Compton, Creed and Carol for a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards. However, The Big Short fails to prove why it is deserving of its accolades.
Based on the Michael Lewis book, The Big Short has the daunting task of explaining to audiences the 2007 financial crisis and the housing market crash that caused it. As a subject that is still heavily researched today at the highest academic levels, the material could have easily left audiences confused. Although imperfect, the film did well in its explanations, even making them gags. Nonetheless, due to the film’s lack of focus, audiences will still be lost. As someone with a degree in Economics, I will admit that even I struggled with minor details.
Surprisingly, the problem with The Big Short is not the subject matter. Again, Adam McKay finds a funny and approachable way to tackle the complexities of finance. The issue is that McKay tries to do too much. There are too many storylines and characters, which makes the film have too many moving parts that McKay does not have the ability to juggle. If the film were to have one main protagonist and focus on their specific journey leading up to the crisis, the movie would have been much simpler to take in. By trying to make three films in one, McKay compromises the audience’s ability to clearly understand how the market crashed, which is vital in order for the film’s conclusion to have an impact.
The Big Short also has issues when it comes to pacing. Yes, finance and economics are not the most interesting of topics. The film’s pacing is used to make things more lively than they actually are. Despite this, the film still ends up feeling thirty minutes too long. This issue could have been fixed had McKay cut out one of the storylines.
Steve Carell and Christian Bale are the standout performances, but audiences do not spend nearly as much time with them as they should. Carell’s emotional scenes only work because of his performance, which is a testament to his skill since the movie barely has time for any character development.
Although one of the film’s flaws is that there are too many characters, the film fails to put a face on the banks that ruined the economy. Of course, it is not black and white. But there are people that were critical to the economic collapse the go nameless. The film complains of no one being held accountable but refuses to point a finger at anyone, both in the banks and the government.
The Big Short is not a bad film. But its weak foundation in terms of storytelling prevents it from reaching its potential. It also shows that with enough star power, any film can take honors away from films superior to it.
The Big Short was released nationwide December 23, 2015.