Learning of this film, I was hesitant to start up any excitement or anticipation of it, often when a bunch of A-list actors are bundled together in a several story plot, the result can be less than desirable and with director/writer Adam McKay I was even more sceptical, as he hadn’t (and still hasn’t really) tackled anything on the more serious side of the spectrum. Nevertheless, in 2005 one man, Michael Burry (Christian Bale) discovered that the entire housing market was propped up on loans that were basically worthless and bound to fail, knowing this he set about betting against them, knowing their timely demise was in the near future. A few others heard of his theory, and when eventually believing it, decided to do the same including Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) and Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). Ultimately you have a few stories all running simultaneously on the same issue without interacting with each other and tackling a story of big significance to our world today, with the greed of big banks, but does it do justice to that importance?
Of course this film has high quality actors: Bale, Pitt, Carrell and Gosling, as well as decent supporting actors: John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater and Jeremy Strong, but it feels as though a fairly small amount is actually being asked of them in this film, with only Bale and Carrell really flexing any acting muscle. Each of the actors all perform well to what is asked of them, without doubt but despite the story being one of significance, there’s no real serious, hard-hitting acting happening in this film; so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Secondly is Gosling’s part in this film, which feels relatively uncomfortable as if it’s not quite a good fit for him as an actor, or maybe that’s just the unquestionably bad wig hypnotising the audience into believing he’s giving a bad performance.
As to my scepticism of McKay’s direction, I now think it was justified, he’s given the audience something above what may have been expected but the fact that his skills as a well rounded director aren’t quite refined enough yet, shines through easily. The use of random images to both denote the time period and give real world examples of the process happening, does not work in my opinion and feels like a cheap effect you would get from a music video and not a multi-million dollar production with several Oscar nominations. Secondly you have to talk about the breaking of that fourth wall which is used to no end in this film, in some ways it is used quite cleverly and others again it feels like a cheap way to tell a story; the use of some famous faces (as themselves) to explain the financial jargon in real terms is smart and funny, although at times slightly patronising. The other side of using it is that there are too many characters involved, if it were simply the character giving the narrative it would make sense, but it’s used with several and eventually would get towards the point of just being everyone acknowledging the camera and then really what would be the point? It’s trying a little too hard to do something which isn’t adding a tonne to its value as a film, but as it progresses into its latter half, that use becomes more focused and the story takes more of a hold and the quality does increase dramatically.
As a whole, ignoring the hype for a moment, this is a valiant effort but with too little pay off, realistically it could be better and would have possibly been phenomenal with someone like Francis Ford Coppola or Martin Scorcese at the helm. As it is, it’s less than mind-blowing, this was too much, too fast for McKay and his style hasn’t quite caught up with what this film was really asking for. The performances by the actors make up somewhat for what the film is lacking in style, but it is missing that real sharp edge that is needed, all the insults in the world don’t make up for a quick witted dialogue. Having said that, it is a good film but that appears in bits and pieces and the inclusion of some parts like the use of quotes with Father & Son bonding moments that have no relevance to the film, aren’t necessary and knock its quality down. You can clearly see what they were going for here, and to some extent they have achieved that, but if only it were put together slightly better, it could be a fantastic film; for me it just doesn’t get there.