REVIEW: Inside Job

24 11 2010

I see a lot of movies, and I don’t exactly try to hide it.  People often ask me, “Have you seen this movie?”  I breathe and most often reply, “Yes, I have.”  Then I brace myself and wait for the inevitable follow-up question: “How was it?”

I have a nice reservoir of descriptors that I’m ready to whip out at a moment’s notice, but I usually start with the simple good.  If a movie is particularly noteworthy, I might add very in front.  If people are particularly curious, they might probe for more, asking “Really?”  At this point, I’ll take the time to more thoroughly explain my thoughts, pointing out a certain performance or technical aspect I found to be exemplary.  It’s also at this point when I whip out more sophisticated adjectives, like dazzling, flooring, and mind-blowing.

With “Inside Job,” I can skip over good and go straight to the vocabulary that no movies ever allow me to use.  It was infuriating, an outraging movie experience that left me reeling and in total shock.  How often does a movie come along that merits the use of those words?

Given that it took a $20 trillion global meltdown to bring me such sentiments, I’d rather have this be the only time I have to feel similarly.  But we have to face the facts: it happened, and documentarian Charles Ferguson goes all the way back to the era of Alan Greenspan to show how the financial crisis began.  He then takes us through the next twenty years, stopping along the way to show all the ways that the recession could have been prevented.

Ferguson gives Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” philosophy a hard slap in the face, going after the financial industry and its greedy executives like an attack dog.  If he had his way, he’d line up the CEOs in front of a firing squad.  But as he lets us know, it’s a Wall Street government, and the people in charge of keeping an eye on the markets have a direct stake in it – Hank Paulson, Secretary of the Treasury and Goldman Sachs CEO, anyone?!  It’s clear where Ferguson’s opinion lies on the blame for the crisis, yet it is up to each individual to decide for themselves if they want to assign the blame in the same place.

No matter if you choose to agree with Ferguson’s assessment or not, it’s impossible to walk away from “Inside Job” without feeling a little bit more knowledgable on the subject.  In my opinion, the more you know about the events leading up to the financial crisis, the more upsetting the whole debacle is.  There are certain facts you cannot slant, and Ferguson provides plenty of them that will have your jaw on the floor.  You can’t dismiss the movie as just an editorial piece because Ferguson researched it so comprehensively that he can back up any claim with statistics and the words of experts.

There are two unique voices running through the film, almost forming a good cop-bad cop routine.  Matt Damon is the film’s official narrator, providing facts and explaining complicated economic policies and procedures on a surprisingly comprehensible level.  For all those who think economics is equivalent to rocket science, let Will Hunting/Jason Bourne teach you and then see how you feel.  Then there’s Ferguson, interviewing an impressive array of subjects with varying ties to the events surrounding the collapse.  He talks to some knowledgable financial experts with mostly indirect ties who offer opinions to support Ferguson’s points.

But where the movie really gets interesting is when Ferguson plops people directly involved with the crisis in front of his lens.  The big names like Bernanke, Geithner, Paulson, and Greenspan predictably declined, but for those who did agree to be interviewed surely got more than they bargained for.  In our current trajectory, the government will let the men who defrauded Americans out of their money completely off the hook, never facing prosecution.  In essence, Ferguson gives a trial to those who won’t ever get one.

He devours these subjects like a starving child at a Red Lobster buffet, particularly going wild with the conflict of interests in academia.  Ferguson tears a hole in Frederic Mishkin and Glenn Hubbard, catching them in bold-faced lies in front of the camera.  It’s so brutal and vicious that it becomes – dare I say it – funny.  Come to think of it, “Inside Job” may be one of the funniest movies of 2010.  Watching CEOs pinned up against a wall trying not to implicate themselves any further makes for a great tragicomedy.

So back to the adjectives, call “Inside Job” any adjective that relates to your blood boiling.  But don’t forget to call it important. After all, this is the first major attempt to make sense of the events that rocked the world’s financial markets, and it’s accessible to the average moviegoer.  If that’s not enough of an accomplishment, the movie makes you hunger for change – and that change doesn’t appear to be coming anytime soon.  A


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