There's nothing subtle about The Big Short. Director Adam McKay (Anchorman) uses every trick in the Martin Scorsese handbook—freeze-frame, montage, fourth-wall-breaking narration—to tell the true story of a few investors who predicted the catastrophic financial crisis of 2008. Christian Bale, not exactly a low-key performer to begin with, is given Asperger's syndrome, a stutter, and a glass eye, Steve Carell's grieving money manager can't help but speak what's on his mind, and Ryan Gosling is apparently the biggest sleaze in finance—an industry already oozing sleaze out of its finely tailored seams. These guys, among others, foresaw the burst of the housing bubble and invested against it—hoping to profit on Wall Street's unrepentant greed.
You can tell McKay is furious about what happened back in 2008, when investment firms like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers bled the public dry and then went belly-up. The screen almost trembles with rage during The Big Short's back half, but before that, it's a smart, addictive thrill to watch the characters discover just how fraudulent the system is. If McKay's kitchen-sink techniques aren't inventive, they're certainly enjoyable and playful: At multiple points, the movie stops in its tracks to explain intricacies of finance to the audience through the means of inspired cameos: Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez, and Margot Robbie in a bubble bath.
While The Big Short has all the nuance of a sledgehammer, it's a passionate, provoking film—and a very, very funny one. Gosling, in maybe his best performance ever, is scathing and hilarious, and the supporting cast is fantastic across the board. Sure, the movie almost unflinchingly fails the Bechdel Test, and many of its main characters never actually share screen time. But McKay's mixture of comedy and outrage is entertaining and infuriating—you'll find yourself laughing at the tackiness of Wall Street's avarice, before you're sickeningly reminded of what they got away with.