Inside Job (2010)

Rating: ★★★★½ 

           

Documentary Narrated by Matt Damon.
Featuring:  Jonathan Alpert, Willem Buiter, Satyajit Das, Kristin Davis, Barney Frank, Robert Gnaizda, Glenn Hubbard, Christine Lagarde, Lee Hsein Loong, David McCormack, Frederic Mishkin, Charles Morris, Ragharum Rajam, George Soros, Eliot Spitzer, Gillian Tett, Paul Volcker.
___________________________
Director:  Charles Ferguson
Rating:  PG-13
Running Time:  108 Mins.
Release Date:  October 8, 2010
Home Video Release Date:  March 8, 2011
Box Office: $4.3 Million
___________________________

Representational Films and Sony Pictures Classics.

Written by:  Charles Ferguson, Chad Beck, and Adam Bolt.

“The financial industry is a service industry.  It should serve others before it serves itself.”- Christine Lagarde, Finance Minister of France. 

There’s one indelible moment in Charles Ferguson’s laser-sharp documentary about the 2008 financial crisis, “Inside Job”.  After being grilled by Ferguson in an interview, David McCormack, the former Under Secretary for the U.S. Department of the Treasury under President George W. Bush, looks directly at the camera and asks, “I’m sorry…but can we turn this off for a second.” He is agitated, uncomfortable, and his face is becoming wrinkled with panic.  When the cameras did indeed shut off, he probably downed a pitcher or two of water.  He looked thirsty.

McCormack’s on screen request for a “time out” encapsulates much of what you may feel watching “Inside Job”.  In systematically analyzing and arguing that deregulation of the United States financial markets catapulted the U.S. and the world into financial meltdown, Ferguson leaves no stone unturned and no individual left behind.  In certain moments, you may need a break to clear your head, think about something you have just learned, get some air, have a cold beverage, or perhaps a moment to literally and/or metaphorically yell at the top of your lungs.

Narrated in an powerfully understated and sobering tone by Matt Damon, the movie lays out the blueprint for how everything collapsed.  Ferguson’s thesis – deregulation of the financial markets, starting with the Reagan Administration and the Savings and Loan scandals of the 1980s, accelerated and perpetuated a culture of greed and unchecked criminal activity – is presented in astute and clarifying fashion.  Ferguson has nabbed the top economists, investment analysts, academic professors, and insiders to document the entire calamity.

And some of the facts are downright shocking and disquieting:

  • The financial meltdown cost U.S. taxpayers more than $20 trillion.
  • As investment banking and record profits escalated from 2000-2007, a massive housing bubble was created which saw mortgage lending quadruple and housing prices double.
  • In a three-year period (2007-2010), housing prices dropped 32% and 6 million families faced foreclosure for the first time.
  • In one year’s time, unemployment doubled from 5% to 10%.
  • The CEOs and top executives with the financial agencies most culpable in this crisis, received massive compensation packages and bonuses.  In one instance, the head of Merrill Lynch, Stan O’Neil, received a $161 million severance package after Merrill Lynch was purchased by Bank of America.
  • Financial companies started selling risky bundled securities to clients and then secretly bet against their legitimacy to their own benefit.
  • No one involved in the 2008 financial meltdown has ever been prosecuted, all have been able to keep and retain their compensation, and many of the highest profile individuals received positions in the Obama Administration after the crisis occurred.
  • All of this was seemingly avoidable.

Charles Ferguson punctuates the film with more than 40 different experts who offer a global take on the events leading up to the downfall.  While former members of the Bush Administration come off as laughably aloof and ignorant, and academic professors and consultants are revealed to be less than credible in some of their consulting work, the film is not a partisan production.  In fact, what is most impressive with “Inside Job” is how non-partisan and critical of all parties and figureheads it truly is.  The outrage hits both sides of the aisle.

In an interview separate from the film, one economist Ferguson features in the film, Charles R. Moore, indicated that he felt that telling this story was next to impossible.  After viewing a rough cut of the film, he recalls telling Ferguson, “My goodness…you’ve done it!”  Ferguson, with a crack research team and tremendous co-writers and editors at his side, cracked the code.  Told in five distinctive chapters, the players, the actions, the staggering level of corruption and criminality shakes you to the core.  The film carries a concussive power even if you don’t understand the terms “derivatives”, “credit default swaps”, or retain even a basic understanding of how the stock market works.

Ferguson proves, as he did with his first film “No End In Sight”, a 2007 Oscar-nominated documentary about the United States’ decision-making in going to war in Iraq, that he is an extraordinary filmmaker.  While the “talking head” style utilized in many documentaries feels a bit stale and lazy nowadays, Ferguson simply knows how to tell a story and tell it extraordinarily well.  Matt Damon’s narration is top notch, exhibiting a resigned and hushed sense of anger.   Credit must be given to Ferguson’s editors and co-writers, Chad Beck and Adam Bolt, who along with Ferguson’s outline and vision on how to present this material, have pieced together the soundbites, animation, and footage with precision point effectiveness.

Curiously, after seeing “Inside Job”, I scoured the internet for sites and articles that looked to debunk the film.  High profile documentaries often get this treatment, especially ones painted by critics as having a partisan bend to them.  I spent significant time looking and other than a slideshow from Business Insider, which had some of its “fact-checking” infused with opinion and theory, I found nothing.  Not one article.  Maybe you can find one if you are so inclined, but the silence from the financial community on the incendiary and provocative “Inside Job” is deafening.

“Inside Job” received the Academy Award for 2010′s Best Documentary Feature.

Should I See It?

YES

“Inside Job” breeds debate and conversation and incites anger and outrage.  Ferguson’s film is a historical document for a shocking and unfathomable robbery, where the American people, and eventually millions around the world, were the victims.

If you think the financial crisis is too complex for you to understand, the film will surprise you in how the concepts can be explained in a way most people can understand, without compromising the importance or the power within the information.

No one has debunked this or really even attempted to.  The film’s logic and assertions are seemingly air-tight and that may prove to be its highest compliment.

Charles Ferguson is one incredibly talented filmmaker.

NO

A criticism can be made that at certain moments, Ferguson is a little too willing to cut away from Bush administration cabinet members when they look vulnerable.  If you’re going to tag a partisan label on the film, I suppose you could look there.

The subject matter is limiting and off-putting to many people.  The financial industry seems too obtuse and distant for many people to grab and this film is probably not a first choice for many folks as a viewing option.

For some, this film simply arrives too soon.  The wounds have not healed.  The circumstances still as bad as they have been.