Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Inside Job: Wall Street Blues

Perhaps it takes one to know one when we’re talking about buckets of money. Charles Ferguson made a bundle selling Vermeer Technologies to Microsoft in the mid-90s, and thereafter opted for research, writing, entrepreneurship, and finally filmmaking, over expanding his yacht collection or trying his hand at arms manufacturing. He last gave us the highly valuable
No End in Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq, but I think Inside Job might be the movie he was destined to make, a wide-ranging analysis of the 2008 economic collapse that opens with a title card that declares: “This is how it happened.” I’m in no position to verify Ferguson’s ballsy assertion, but it would be my pleasure to direct you to the theatre where he’s laying it all out for your scrutiny.

If you’re as essentially ignorant about the finer points of financial swindling as I am, rest assured that
Inside Job functions as a solid crash course in how markets crash, while those responsible walk away from the disaster in only cozier positions of power and influence. Ferguson’s investigation into the roots of deregulation under Reagan and how it was merrily maintained by every presidency from then on is sufficiently thorough as to reawaken one’s indignation over just how low Wall Street accountability has fallen over the last 30 years. Darting between a few dozen talking heads representing just about every point on the political spectrum—including disgraced former New York attorney general and governor Eliot Spitzer, the altogether enlightening subject of another new documentary called Client 9, which we’ll hopefully see turning up soon—Ferguson conjures an insane parade of predatory loans, $1,000 an hour prostitutes, multi-million dollar bonuses, lobbyists making colossal campaign contributions, Alan Greenspan getting paid $40,000 for a letter of support for Charles Keating’s dodging of the Federal Home Loan Bank’s ten percent rule—that being just one of countless examples of such advocacy—and, as we steer toward the aftermath, President Obama’s failure to do anything about any of it.

For all those who opted to appear in
Inside Job there are numerous conspicuous absentees, such as AIG’s Joseph Cassano, Lehman Brothers’ Richard Fuld, former Goldman Sachs CEO and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, and, obviously, Greenspan. The refusal of so many lowdown higher-ups to be interviewed could have discouraged a different sort of filmmaker, but Ferguson turns it into a running joke. Not a cheap joke, mind you. Ferguson strives to engage and entertain by infuriation, but he isn’t interested in Michael Moore’s shenanigans or sweeping ideological condemnations, which means that Inside Job is a vastly more lucid indictment of American greed than Capitalism: A Love Story.

Ferguson’s cinematic style is slick, sometimes excessively so. Architecture emerges as his favoured storytelling device, the fortress-like skyscrapers that symbolize inaccessibility and decadence, the helicopter overhead shots of cities that incite vertigo. It’s a workable and kinetic if not especially original convention. It shows his visual imagination to be stronger than that brought to the movie’s soundscape. Matt Damon supplies a pleasingly sober narration, but Alex Heffes’ score alternately invokes boilerplate corporate thrillers and gladiator movies and in any case occasionally spills over the top. This weightiness is somewhat balanced by familiar frat rock classics like ‘Big Time,’ ‘New York Groove,’ and the almost obligatory ‘Takin’ Care of Business.’

director Charles Ferguson

At times you wonder if a 90-miute movie is really the best way to present this material, yet the format can arguably reach audiences who are by now glazing over news and magazine pieces on the recession. Ferguson, to his credit, takes care not to snow layman viewers. He surely had to fight the temptation to pile on more data since he’s so obviously better versed in the nitty-grit than most of us. Bottom line:
Inside Job gets your attention, and ultimately rewards it. The question is: what happens next?

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