Thursday, September 30, 2010

NYFF Review: Inside Job

Inside Job
Directed by Charles Ferguson
United States

            It’s easy to make a documentary that targets people and makes them into villains, especially when you have a good topic, such as the 2008 financial meltdown. Consider Michael Moore’s Capitalism, which was conveniently released only weeks after the collapse of Lehman Bros, and the real sign of worse things to come. Yet Mr. Moore, for all his earnestness and narrative skill, never really explained what had happened, he just pointed fingers.
            Enter Charles Ferguson, who may be able to compete for one of the smartest scholars alive (he used to be a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute), or at least in his ability to think critically about situations. In his 2007 film, No End in Sight, Mr. Ferguson took on the complicated task of examining how the Iraq War went wrong, and what were the key factors that caused it to go from a peaceful occupation to a war zone. Mr. Ferguson’s findings, which took aim at things that might not seem that bad, showed the key mistakes in an engrossing way, and left his audience simply shaking their heads.
            In his latest film, Inside Job, those heads are about to be boiling in blood. Mr. Ferguson might be a couple years later than most to take on the topic of the 2008 financial meltdown, but he does it with a clarity and genius that few films reach. Rarely pandering to his audience, and keeping us invested in the narrative with interviews with scholars, politicians, bankers, hookers, and everyone who one could possibly need to do about 40 dissertations on the subject, Mr. Ferguson compacts it all into an under-two hour movie, and in a devastating fashion. There are many great films, but this should be required viewing.
            Inside Job neatly divides itself into five acts, like a good Shakespearean tragedy should, and begins in the strangest of all places: Iceland. A brief prologue basically shows what happens when things become deregulated (hint: they are bad, and especially for Iceland). The prologue serves as a reminder for the rest of the film—deregulation leads to more dangerous activity, and those activities become more and more ludicrous until the people actually paying for the mistakes are not the ones that caused it.
            Some of the materials, for those who have read a dozen articles or listened to an NPR story, are a little redundant. Of course, those who haven’t will be shocked at out ridiculous the system is. However, there are also some other truths that I did not know about that really pissed me off. One involves credit rating agencies, which determine which stocks, mortgages, and other credit-backed securities, are safe buys, and how their “opinions” shaped our financial future. The one that certainly gets the most blood though involves professors at top business schools, such as Harvard and Columbia University. Mr. Ferguson basically depicts how these top economics were paid by banks to write positive articles so they could continue and expand their deregulatory practices. When confronted, the professors respond with anger, bafflement, and embarrassment.
            One should note—Mr. Ferguson is not interested in current political bickering, and neither Inside Job nor No End in Sight blame a specific party for their alignment. In fact, the cold truth at the heart of Inside Job is that both parties, for the last 30 years, have continued to play into the game controlled by the major financial companies, and there seems to be little hope in the current administration, and no promise in the recently passed financial regulatory bill.
            Inside Job ends on the note that some how, these top bankers need to go the jail. It’s a note that seems a little difficult to say the least, but the journey there is simply baffling. Mr. Ferguson jumps from interview to interview without ever losing us. It’s sometimes darkly funny, but mostly just immensely raging. This is the type of film that reaffirms that things are not going to be okay, and that this is not the end. It is only the beginning. Mr. Ferguson sublimely shows that muckraking isn’t a mundanely banal approach, especially when you come backed with more evidence than one would ever need. This is a shot right into the heart, and truly from a non-filmmaking point (though the craft of the film doesn’t hurt either), the must see film of the year. 

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