Christian Bale received his third Oscar nomination for portraying Michael Burry in The Big Short.
A common problem when a broad comedy director, like Adam McKay, tries to make a more serious minded film is that it can result in an odd tone as they can't seem to let go of their urge whenever there is potential for a cheap gag now and again. The problematic tone is found in The Big Short and crosses over to the performances where every one is not exactly on the same wavelength. Ryan Gosling plays his role as though he wandered off the set of a not as good version of The Wolf of Wall Street, Brad Pitt plays his role dead seriously, John Magaro and Finn Wittrock play their roles like they're the hapless heroes in a broad comedy, and Steve Carell's voice and walk seem like a comedic creation yet his intentions for the role never seem to be a such. Then there's Christian Bale whose story seems to be in even more of his own bubble than the other two as most of his scenes never leave Michael Burry's office, or are just him having some sort of reflective narration about himself. In turn Bale's performance actually is in a bit of a bubble all its own, though to be fair in this case the film's portrayal of Michael Burry is that he's suppose to be a guy in a bubble all his own.
Bale gives his performance very much a take it or leave it quality, though this is technically very much required for the part of Burry whose suppose to be detached from most everything and probably has Asperger syndrome. The film puts an emphasis on this all the more in the way his scenes are edited as the narration will be over his normal interactions as though to make it so we also are disjointed from him all the more. The film does this as an attempt to show that this disjointed quality in Burry is actually what enables him to see the flaws in the Mortgage market which propels him to start shorting it. Bale in turn gives a portrayal of Burry that from our position seems quite random, and actually to Bale's credit he perhaps gives the performance that might have been what the tone of the film should be. Bale in no way gives a comedic performance, but rather presents Burry exactly as he is. He's never playing for laughs but the potential for that is there. I will say this approach might have worked quite well if the film had been more intelligently directed and edited. Not that this causes Bale's performance to wholly fail though, but the film's tone is too random to make proper use of what he's doing.
Now what Bale is doing just in terms of an abstract view is some random behavior....a great deal of random behavior. Burry has a lot of personal tics as Bale has him speak in kind of an internalized way even when he's directly speaking to someone, and never quite feels like he'll talk right at you. It does not stop there as he just does what he does in terms of behavior whether it is brushing his teeth, or drumming to music in as though he's oblivious to others. Bale keeps his body language withdrawn that always makes him seem a difficult man to approach. Bale will even have Burry sometimes suddenly laugh or smile in a somewhat awkward fashion. Now what Bale does well is he makes this randomness feel natural enough to make it all seem like something normal to Burry, and in fact should be a bit off putting for someone else watching him. It's random to us but it's not random to Burry. Bale pulls this off, and I did not feel like I was just watching Bale act, I felt like he made all of it feel as something a guy with Asperger syndrome would do. Now having said all that, this performance really did very little for me. Again because the film does not make use of what Bale is doing in an effective fashion.
The only interactions are from either those who are playing it dead seriously too which means again Bale is still stuck in his bubble with only the occasional brief minor character having some over the top reaction to him. None of it becomes very amusing, but it did not necessarily have to be that way. It should be engaging at least but the way the scenes are handled there's Bale there doing his thing, and that's it. There's no where to take the behavior past...... well the behavior, especially since Burry basically just gets his short set up then just ignores everyone. This leaves Bale only with the behavior, which in itself becomes a bit repetitive and not too compelling. The film is basically done with him before it even reaches the half way point but it still occasionally cuts to him as he is doing something on a computer, writing down a few numbers, or doing some more drumming. Again only behavior, as the film never bothers to come up with something for Burry to do that's dynamic, which might be true to life but who cares it's a movie. I frankly felt the film halted whenever it came back to Burry, at no fault of Bale's either. All you're left with is a guy acting like he has Asperger Syndrome. To Bale's credit, once again, he pulls it off, but film does not let him take Michael Burry anywhere past the set up.