REVIEW: Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

16 06 2011

With the chaotic Anthony Weiner scandal finally ending in his resignation (but hopefully not putting those hilarious sexual puns to rest), it seems like as good a time as ever to discuss “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” Alex Gibney’s fascinating documentary of another New York politician driven out of office by the revelation of personal vice.  The prolific documentarian delivers an enthralling chronicle of Spitzer’s career, from his heights as Attorney General to the humiliating admission that he had been involved in a prostitution ring.  Gibney provides a multilateral view of it all, leaving no stone unturned and showing how Spitzer was digging his own grave while constructing his doomed political colossus.

In case anyone is unfamiliar with Spitzer from any context other than his CNN show or the embarrassing final press conferences with his wife standing steadfastly behind him, Gibney’s portrait brings everyone up to speed with his career.  Beginning from his tenure as Attorney General of the state of New York, Spitzer was deeply committed to delivering justice.  Given the state, his jurisdiction included Wall Street, and anyone who rattles the cages there is bound to piss off some powerful people.  While his dynamic regulation earned him praise from the press, with some hailing him as “the future first Jewish president,” there were men behind the scenes looking for ways to bring about his demise.

Ultimately, they didn’t have to resort to Mafia techniques to see the realization of their dream; Spitzer handed it to them on a silver platter.  Behind the successful, married, and unflappable façade he constructed was a man seeking for something more.  Unfortunately, he found that something in a high-priced prostitute known as Ashley Dupre.  It only took a little bit of dirt searching to find this secret, and as they say, the rest is history.

Gibney gets interviews from all the high-profile figures in the saga, from the pissed-off powerbrokers to the pragmatic prostitutes.  But unlike most documentaries, “Client 9” boasts having first person commentary from the two main characters in the story – Spitzer himself and Ashley Dupre, played by an actress to protect herself.  The hired hand does a great job of bringing her story to life, but it’s Spitzer that draws us in and never lets us go.  We can see how tough it is for him to admit to his mistakes and relive the painful events that brought down his life.

Watching Spitzer’s admissions with such raw humanity makes “Client 9” essential viewing in spite of Gibney’s inconsistencies.  The nearly two hour movie flip-flops between various tones, including a History Channel special, a tale of political intrigue reminiscent of the fifth season of “24,” a thriller, and an exposé of the prostitution industry.  But in spite of its shortcomings, Gibney’s film draws some important conclusions about what leads men in power to slip up, and Anthony Weiner is just further proof that what he has to say is still extremely relevant.  B / 


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