Henry Paulson, Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner in the documentary “Inside Job.”

Film Review: Inside Job

Inside Job, the new documentary by Charles Ferguson at the Toronto International Film Festival (and now in theaters), sounds like a knock-off of a Quentin Tarantino film. Yet its anything but a testosterone-driven fantasy. This is the real thing – or it was the real thing, until events overtook the story of the Wall Street collapse.

Dont skip this film because you think it might be delivering yesterdays news. In this economy, remembering yesterday is crucial.

The title says it all. The people running the major investment firms were selling toxic assets, and recommending them to their customers. Respected economists were endorsing it all. They were also betting against those very investments, and pocketing the profits. Some of their highest profits came from loans to the poorest of customers, who were often deceived into borrowing. And we all paid to save them.

Inside Job

Inside Job movie poster

Inside Job opens in an unlikely place – Iceland, the country that had one of the worlds highest standards of living, which went bust, and took the bank deposits of thousands of British and Dutch customers with it. It was a perilous game, and US bankers were endorsing it.  US experts were paid by the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce to do so.  Now, unlike their US counterparts, most of those Icelandic bankers are either under indictment or fugitives.

Iceland is not the only defining twist in Inside Jobs perspective on the financial collapse. Charles Ferguson, whose debut doc was No End in sight, about Iraq, also conducted interviews with two men at Columbia Business School. Frederic Mishkin, an economist at Columbia, admitted that he had been paid by an Icelandic business association to write a positive assessment of Iceland not long before the country went belly-up. Glenn Hubbard, formerly of the Bush Administration, lost his patience with Fergusons insistence that the truth was something different than what Hubbard was telling him — so impatient that he regretted doing the interview, on camera. That moment alone is worth your price of admission.

These bankers and economist have turned from the usual experts on shows like Charlie Rose to the usual suspects — you might think that the police would have locked them up, but these usual suspects are running things again. By this time next month, its likely that well learn that they will be more in control than ever. At that point, an enterprising documentary filmmaker might look into why so many people whove been hurt by these bankers were willing to vote their allies back into office.

The only person who seems to have suffered from the financial crash in Inside Job is Elliot Spitzer, who speaks eloquently in Inside Job. (See Alex Gibneys upcoming Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer – which was also at TIFF 2010.)

All of which brings us to Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps –  Oliver Stones sequel to his zeitgeist-driving epic of 1988, in which gloating greed is punished. This time Gordon Gecko is back, with Michael Douglas playing a seemingly-chastised sage who hasnt lost his swagger. Here the man who appears to have lost everything becomes potential father-in-law and confidence man to his daughters boyfriend, Shia LeBouef, a hip broker committed to alternative energy. Gecko manages to convince the young couple to empty out a secret Swiss trust fund that he had left for the daughter (Carey Mulligan) who hates him for the public scandal that led to her brothers suicide. Be prepared for a Hollywood ending as the scheming investor – check in hand — seeks forgiveness from the daughter whos about to bear him a grandson. If you find that believable, there might be a sub-prime loan waiting for you out there. Still, one touch to Wall Streets credit is that Josh Brolin is punished for an insider scheme to undermine a competitor — lawyer Frank Langella, who commits suicide by jumping in front of a subway. Thats one US prosecution more than what we get in Inside Job.

One more thing. What is Wall Street without product placements? In volume one, we got Evian and Molson Light. Here  in Money Never Sleeps we have Heineken and Ducatti motorcycles, and …. See how many more you can find, and make up your own mind on whether to buy those products.

And if Wall Street and Inside Job and Client 9 arent enough for fiscal apocalypse junkies, get ready for Too Big To Fail, Curtis Hansens adaptation of Andrew Ros Sorkins book. At least two big stars will shave their heads for this saga – William Hurt, as Henry Paulson, and Paul Giammatti, as Ben Bernanke. Will the shaved head fad catch on? Id rather see their characters in sack-cloth first.

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