Review: Inside Job
“We have to dance until the music stops.”
“This ain't no bank robbery!” spat Keith Frazier in 2006’s Inside Man. In that film certain details didn’t quite add up to suggest that a typical bank heist was going down. Meanwhile In real life, there was a bank robbery occurring on a massive global scale, at least according to documentary filmmaker Charles Ferguson, director of 2010’s Inside Job. In this award-winning documentary we follow the events that led to the post-millennial recession in the United States and its aftermath.
Starting as early the Great Depression of the 1920’s, the film goes forward in time looking at the safeguards set up by the U.S. government to prevent financial disasters, and the government deregulation that tore them down. With little involvement from the government, the financial industry (security insurance companies, financial conglomerates, investments bank and rating agencies) built up myriad, unethical systems to create more money. Outside observers noticed that that if things continued the way they did, it could drive the nation into catastrophe.
The talking heads in this film held different positions concerning the financial situation. The list of speakers is pretty long; the prominent ones include Charles Morris, Andrew Sheng, Eliot Spitzer, Christine Lagarde and Raghuram Rajan, who played a pivotal role as a whistleblower of sorts trying to prevent the birth of the financial meltdown. The list of people who declined to speak is pretty long too: Larry Summers, Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner, The Presidents of Harvard and Columbia University, and many more. If it seems like they didn’t want to look bad on film its okay, we had Frederic Mishkin, David McCormick, John Campbell, and Glenn Hubbard to gawk at as they got flustered and tripped over their words (Glenn Hubbard gets especially sassy nearing the end of the film).
No one really gets off the hook here. Footage of Dubya Bush is sprinkled here and there amidst the chaos, so when footage of President Obama appears on screen you almost feel like this is the part when the documentary slowly begins its turn towards a happy ending. Instead, the film highlights a number of disappointing decisions made by President Obama, including appointing those who helped cause the financial meltdown (Ben Bernanke and Larry Summers for example) as part of the white house staff. President Obama is also painted as weak in terms of facing regulatory reform, or maybe complacent. When contributor Robert Gnaizda is asked why the government doesn’t seem to be doing enough he answered, “It’s a Wall Street government.”
The writing for the narration is done really well. It ably describes the who, what, when, why and how of the financial crises. I’m not so keen on the actual narration, done by Matt Damon. I don’t dislike him (he is kind of overexposed, though), it’s just that they had a chance to get a narrator who had a distinct voice that fit into the gravity of the film. Here we get plain-spoken Damon, celebrity voice of America, sighing over the collapse of the financial industry when he isn’t sound completely disengaged from the whole thing. He’s better than Eeyore-sounding Michael Moore at narration, but not too much; and the idea that they felt they needed to attach a famous person to the film makes the narration all the more grating. The music is also an interesting choice. It’s moody and theatrical, meant to keep us interested in the real life drama that has transpired in the past decade. Basically it sounds like the soundtrack lifted from a slow burning thriller.
The film is not really all that thrilling, but it is sort of a horror movie. Ferguson reminded us on the DVD copy for the film, and during his 2011 Oscar speech, that none of the bigwigs responsible for the financial mess have been tried and punished. If anything, the only “punishment” some of these bosses have received were more huge paychecks and positions in the White House. Ferguson probably said it best on a DVD featurette; “It’s really quite simple,” he explains, “it was a bank robbery, and it was bank robbery committed not by somebody walking into a bank with a gun but committed by the president of the bank.”