Inside Job


Inside Job

The scene of the crime.

(2010) Documentary (Sony Classics) Matt Damon (voice), Eliot Spitzer, Glenn Hubbard, Barney Frank, Paul Volcker, Lee Hsien Loong, Domnique Strauss-Kahn, Gillian Tett, Sigridur Benediktsdottir, Satyajit Das, Jerome Fons, Andrew Lo, William Ackman. Directed by Charles Ferguson

 

There is no doubt that the financial crisis of 2008 was completely avoidable. Regulations that had been in place since the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash had been systematically removed, first during the Reagan administration but continuing through the Bush, Clinton and G.W. Bush administrations. The government that was supposed to protect us from the sharks of Wall Street had in fact aided and abetted their feeding frenzy which led to the crisis.

Most of us have been affected in some way by the crisis. Some of us have lost jobs or homes or know someone who did. Nearly all of us have paid with a drastically adjusted lifestyle that is nowhere near as affluent as it was in 2007 (unless you’re one of the 1%). Most of us feel angry and helpless against the prevarications of the banks and financial institutions that precipitated this mess. What most of us aren’t aware of is that they weren’t the only ones who deserve blame.

Filmmaker Charles Ferguson knows. At one time a dot com millionaire himself, he has become a documentary filmmaker and a fine one – his first film, No End in Sight, showed how disastrous decisions made after the fall of Saddam were leading us to utter disaster – and the Iraqis as well. This movie is even better.

He approaches the crisis calmly and rationally, explaining the steps that led us to the situation we’re in starting in, of all places, Iceland. That country had a robust economy until deregulation (pushed for by the banks and greedy investors) led them to near economic collapse well before our own crisis. Even with that warning in place, few noticed or cared that we were headed in the same direction. Anyone who did raise the alarm was condemned as a Luddite or a socialist. Of course we could trust our bankers and financiers to do what’s best. They’re all interested in a healthy robust economy ahead of their own short-term financial gains aren’t they?

They aren’t, clearly. Not only that, they actively campaigned for deregulation, even given the examples of history where deregulation would lead – not only in Iceland but in 1929 as well. It is in fact somewhat chilling how similar the two crashes were and Ferguson points out those similarities like a prosecutor.

He questions participants in the freefall, from academics paid by Wall Street firms to write “impartial” papers on the soundness of the system to politicians who were hornswoggled into believing that deregulation would be beneficial to the economy short-term and long. He also points out that nobody has seriously been prosecuted for their roles in manipulating the economy nor have the laws essentially changed. That’s just as true in 2012 as when this movie came out two years ago.

Inside Job won a Best Documentary Oscar in 2011 and it deserves it. If your blood isn’t boiling by the conclusion of the film, you need to get your pulse checked. We are made to understand that we have all fallen asleep at the switch and allowed the government, business and academic sectors to collude for the profits of a few. It is up to us, as narrator Damon points out at the film’s conclusion, to make ourselves heard (as the Occupy Wall Street movement has attempted to do). We have to understand that those who got us in this fix feel like they can afford to wait us out but we can’t allow that to happen. We need to learn from our mistakes, make those people responsible for this accountable and re-establish those regulations that prevented this sort of thing from happening for fifty years – the years which coincided with our nation’s greatest prosperity, not too coincidentally. When is our ADHD nation going to take notice of the important things rather than be distracted by more lurid subjects? Not soon enough, I fear.

WHY RENT THIS: A very capable explanation of the financial meltdown and its lasting consequences. Non-partisan (relatively).  Some gorgeous cinematography.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Very dry stuff and lots of talking heads.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some profanity as well as some drug and sex-related material.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jeffrey Lurie, one of the owners of the Philadelphia Eagles and one of the richest men in the United States, was an executive producer on the film – which is a study in irony in itself.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed, although if you want to see a few extended interviews with some of the participants you’ll find that here.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $7.9M on a $2M production budget; the movie was a modest hit.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: Made in Dagenham

How Do You Know


How Do You Know

Paul Rudd comforts Reese Witherspoon who has just realized that she's made a bomb.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Columbia) Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson, Kathryn Hahn, Mark Linn-Baker, Lenny Venito, Ron McLarty, Molly Price, John Tormey, Tony Shalhoub, Dean Norris, Teyonah Parris, Shelley Conn. Directed by James L. Brooks

Love is like the wind. You can’t hold it easily in your hands and sometimes you’re not even sure it’s there at all. Is that breeze you’re feeling the beginnings of love or just the air conditioning?

Lisa (Witherspoon) sure doesn’t know. Once the face of the U.S. Softball Team, she’s won Olympic gold and world championships. Now, she’s in the twilight of her career and as the 2011 team is being selected, a jerk of a coach (Norris) decides that her best days are behind her.

She hooks up with Matty (Wilson) after being set up by a friend. He is a pitcher for the major league Washington Nationals who is good looking, charming and completely self-obsessed. Maybe this is what Lisa needs to get out of her funk; her good friend Sally (Price) doesn’t think so but hey, you always support your teammate no matter what.

George (Rudd) is going through some tough times of his own. He is being investigated by the federal government for something he didn’t do, although it happened on his watch. He had taken over the reins of his father’s company and dear old dad (Nicholson) is being left with the terrible choice of supporting his son or the company he spent a lifetime building. The law specifies that he has to do the latter, so the lawyer (Linn-Baker) that George would have chosen can’t represent him because he’s being paid by the company and there’s a conflict of interest.

George and Lisa go out on a blind date on the worst day of both of their lives, set up by one of Lisa’s teammates who knew George. The first time they were to get together, George was already dating Terry (Conn) who was throwing herself into her work as a scientist more than she was throwing herself into the relationship. When the feces hit the fan for George, she distanced herself from him, not wanting the drama to get in the way of her work. Ain’t modern relationships grand? However, now that Terry’s out of the picture and George is feeling particularly lonely, he decides to take a shot at the blind date, urged on by his assistant Annie (Hahn) who seems to have a weird fixation on him, despite being pregnant by a guy she loves very much.

Anyway, by all measures the date between George and Lisa is a complete disaster except that for George, it’s just what the doctor ordered. He falls hard for Lisa, who in the meantime is getting closer to Matty who treats her nicely and despite being more of a narcissist than most of us will ever be, is at least trying to be the right guy for her. George’s persistence pays off as his woebegone puppy charm begins to wear her down.

So Lisa is faced with George and Matty. Both good men, both clearly in love with her, but which one is she in love with? Or maybe she doesn’t love either of them? What is her future going to bring? Why did her agent get her into this movie? 

This is one of the cases where a fine cast, a terrific director and an interesting idea for a movie turn out to be disappointing. It has all the ingredients – Brooks, whose pedigree include classics like Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News and As Good as It Gets, for example. Obviously he has a knack for directing romantic comedies. A terrific cast of very likable actors doesn’t hurt either. I even like the love triangle concept. So why don’t I love this movie?

One of the problems I have with it is that it treats its viewers like five-year-olds. It constantly re-emphasizes that George and Lisa are at a crisis in their lives, and that Matty is self-centered. It belabors the point so much you just want to get out of your seat, run up to the projection booth, grab the projectionist by the neck and scream into his face “WE GET IT! WE UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SAY! NOW MOVE ON, WOULD YOU PLEASE?!?”

Of course, that would never happen – most movies are shown digitally these days anyway, so projectionists are going the way of ushers. Be that as it may, that leaves the performances and for the most part they’re pretty good. There’s a terrific scene near the end of the movie when Lisa makes her choice and the spurned suitor hugs her and says quietly “What did I do wrong?” The heartbreak is very evident in his voice and it is one of the finest acting moments of his career (won’t tell you who it is in case you plan to see the movie, although you can probably guess who it is).

Nicholson is always entertaining and he blusters his way through this, although you never get the impression he really believes that he’s making a great movie but is more doing a favor for a friend. Witherspoon is one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood and she’s quite accomplished at the romantic comedy genre; she is not at the top of her game here, but close enough that she performs solidly. Owen Wilson is also pretty good in his role. I might have liked the movie if his character hadn’t been quite so self-centered. It would seem, on paper, an easy call for Lisa to make; I would have liked it if both of the guys that were falling for her were less projects and more really good guys who each deserved her and whom she cared for. That would have made the difficulty of her position more pronounced and, dare I say it, more realistic. At least, I would have found it more entertaining that way.

Another problem is Rudd’s character. Not because of his performance, which captures the neuroses of the character nicely; the problem is that the character is poorly written. He seems to be incapable of taking any bad news, but yet he was running what apparently was a very large and profitable company. Bad news kind of comes with that kind of territory, you know? He’s also supposed to be a “good man” – and he is, but good doesn’t mean wimpy. He apparently doesn’t have any sort of spine whatsoever, making it very tough to identify with him despite all of Rudd’s best efforts to make him charming.

The main problem I have with the movie is its length. Due to all the overemphasis on the movie’s main plot points, it feels like the movie runs long by a good half hour if not more. I was definitely getting fidgety at the end, something I don’t normally do for good movies.

The crying shame is that this could have been a good movie, and I really wanted it to be. The cast is likable, the behind the camera talent is extremely strong and the concept could have made for a good movie. One suspects that unseen hands were tinkering with this movie, particularly in the editing phase. A stronger hand on the scissors might have made this sleeker, leaner and more entertaining. Ah well, there’s always the fast forward button when this comes out on home video; that way you can make your own edit.

REASONS TO GO: Reese Witherspoon is a very beautiful woman. Jack Nicholson is worth seeing whenever you get the opportunity.

REASONS TO STAY: The movie is a good half hour too long. Far too much dithering going on here.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality and some mildly bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The part of the father was originally offered to Bill Murray who turned it down.

HOME OR THEATER: If you watch it at home at least you can get up and leave without bothering anybody.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The King’s Speech