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

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer


Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

Some press conferences just don't go all that well.

(2010) Documentary (Magnolia) Eliot Spitzer, Joe Bruno, Roger Stone, Hank Greenberg, Ken Langone, Wrenn Schmidt, Elizabeth Monrad, Robert Graham, Zana Brezdek, Kristian Stiles, Jimmy Siegel, Fred Dicker, John Whitehead, Scott Horton, Darren Dopp, Mike Balboni. Directed by Alex Gibney

 

Eliot Spitzer may wind up being a cautionary tale for 21st century politicians. He was once one of the most dynamic leaders in the country, the Sheriff of Wall Street, a man who took on crooked CEOs and won. He had gone from New York’s Attorney General to New York’s Governor and some said he might have a shot at being the first Jewish President after Obama’s presidency came to an end.

Then it all came crashing down. A juicy sex scandal – apparently the Governor had been seeing some very high-priced call girls. There were receipts, accusations and an incriminating document that listed Spitzer as “Client 9.” The interesting thing is that clients one through eight received little investigation and almost no attention. It was only Client 9 who had the microscope turned on him.

It must be remembered that Spitzer made a lot of powerful enemies, including AIG chairman Hank Greenberg who blamed Spitzer for his company’s collapse, New York State Representative Joe Bruno, Republican public relations specialist (and character assassin) Roger Stone and former NYSE director Ken Langone, to name a few. That his spectacular downfall followed his rise to power so precipitously makes one wonder if it was engineered. Certainly there are some compelling arguments in that direction, although Spitzer himself tends to downplay that aspect.

In fact, Spitzer’s interview is the highlight of the movie. He comes off as remarkably self-knowing, understanding that it was his own hubris that brought him down, his own mistaken idea that he was untouchable. He seems to be completely accountable for his actions, or at least projects that image. It’s easy to see how the charismatic Spitzer became so popular in the Empire State.

That doesn’t mean his opponents are any less compelling interviews, particularly Bruno (who is an old-school politician and quite entertaining in his own way) and Langone who’s like a pit bull and seems to have a special dislike for Spitzer.

Other reviewers have compared this to a Greek tragedy and indeed it is; it is the story of Icarus (as Spitzer himself remarks) who created wings made out of feathers and wax; when he flew too close to the sun, the wax melted, the feathers fell out and Icarus tumble screaming from the skies.

WHY RENT THIS: Spitzer is a fascinating character and the story is compelling. Very balanced in presenting differing viewpoints. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: An awful lot of talking head footage, little of which measures up to Spitzer’s own interview.

FAMILY VALUES: The film covers some fairly sexy stuff and there is some brief nudity. There’s also a fair amount of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Spitzer has since gone on to attempt a broadcasting career with CNN but both of his shows (“Parker Spitzer” and “In the Arena” were cancelled).

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $192,870 on an unreported production budget; it might have broken even but only just and it’s more likely it lost a bunch of money.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Contraband