Have you ever seen a movie with an indelible moment and wondered, “How did I not hear about this before seeing it?” The Big Short is likely to leave you feeling this way, as nearly every feature fits this description, and most reviews are not just a list of everything that happens in the movie. You may have heard about the cameoing celebrities talking directly to the camera, but that is only the tip of the iceberg.
In its editing, production design, and sound composition, The Big Short is just sick (in all connotations of that word). Adam McKay has shown some flashes of narrative experimentation in his Will Ferrell comedies (the Applebee’s commercial in Talladega Nights, direct acknowledgement of the lack of consequences following the battle royale in Anchorman, the musical breaks in Step Brothers), but in those cases they did not overwhelm the whole movie and they fit more naturally. This time, he goes completely for broke.
As for the cast, Christian Bale sinks into another character, Ryan Gosling revels in the slime and eccentricity, and the rest of the ensemble sinks their teeth into the muck. But Steve Carell shines the brightest as a trader whose arc presents the most human moments of the narrative. The whole system tears him up internally as much as it tears up any semblance of financial integrity. When he and his team visit a Florida community decimated by evictions, it is a sobering reminder of how real this crisis is for a lot of people. The film would be excellent without this segment, but with it, it is at another level.
Other recent Wall Street-based films have portrayed this type of fraud just as well, but The Big Short takes it a step further by not taking it a step further. It betrays hardly any hope that it can actually make a difference. Free of that burden, the message is: we might be as fucked as we ever were, but at least we can still make an absolutely insane movie.