The banker did it
Nowadays, documentaries are savvy enough to make themselves almost as exciting as fiction films – and in some cases, more so. Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop is a very current example of a movie that has captured the enthusiasm (as well as the admiration/skepticism/curiosity) of its worldwide audience. Its history of street art littered with jump-cuts and an exhuberant soundtrack, Exit… is at times reminiscent of the filmmaking style of Tony Scott or Michael Bay, thankfully without sacrificing its credibility.
Inside Job takes a more serious and considerably drier subject – the recent Global Financial Crisis (hereinafter the GFC) and explores the GFC’s origins, tracks its destructive path and analyses its (almost) aftermath. It’s a fascinating and sobering study of something that, whether we are financial bods or not, has affected every one of us in some way. The breadth of its likely audience will depend on how interested people are in sitting through what could have been construed as a 2-hour Powerpoint presentation.
However, director Charles Ferguson builds tension and intrigue by interviewing the great and the not-so-good of the finance world, from Harvard dons to disgraced New York governors (the seeming irony of Eliot Spitzer expressing his opinion about others’ wrongdoing is put into context in the final reel). Of course, the likes of Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield have been buttonholing unwilling interviewees for decades. Ferguson is to be applauded for knowing his stuff, and engaging with his subjects intelligently and respectfully – even if he is given short shrift once or twice when his spade suddenly hits the lid of the treasure chest.
One often forgets, when watching a non-fiction film, that even documentaries purporting to express unbiased, objective statements are subject to all manner of subjective construction – the choice of when to edit a scene; the framing of the interviewee; the handling of those who refuse to take part (it’s virtually impossible to see the banker who “declined to be interviewed for this film” as anything other than a crook with something to hide). With that in mind, the audience collectively balks at the bar graphs showing obscene profits, bonuses and dividends that would pay off the aghast viewers’ combined mortgages many times over.
With a suitably grave and persuasive tone, Matt Damon narrates the subtly simplified story of hedge funds and derivatives, cocaine and strippers. You don’t have to have a commerce degree, but it would probably help. In any event, Ferguson manages to piece together a coherent and accessible analysis of the GFC, eschewing the manipulations of Moore and even Errol Morris (for whose work I have great respect) to allow the widely-felt reality of the GFC to do all the talking.