Inside Job (2010) D: Charles Ferguson
Inside Job, the 2011 winner of the Best Documentary Feature Academy Award is a study of the the Global Financial Crisis and those who appear to have caused it despite the fact they knew they would. Like the third act of any good legal drama, Inside Job sets out from the beginning to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that several of Wall Street’s largest institutions (Lehman Brothers, Merryl Lynch, Goldman Sachs etc) and their respective executives are not only to blame for the global financial crisis, but that they could have stopped it and nothing has changed.
As a document, the film reads like a dossier; segmented into five distinct parts outlining the past, present and future of the GFC. Intercutting interviews with outraged analysts and unrepentent high-flyers, there are scenes of excess to dream-like levels – private jets, multi-level mansions, swiming pools the size of a great lake – all overlayed with 80s synth tunes from Peter Gabriel and others. This is no doubt an attempt to raise the ghost of 80s greed in an ironically amusing reference to 1980s popular cinema.
Narrated by Matt Damon, Inside Job feels like watching the tale of a notorious killer. Important turning points in history laid ominously bare with the power of hindsight and the audience is dragged to the final denouement – these guys did this deliberately and they got away with it. It’s a fascinating font of information on derivatives, junk CDOs and insurance credit default swaps, as well as on the lobbies who helped prevent any regulation stopping people profiting from them. By film’s end, viewers will no longer be shocked to find that the people at the centre of these legislation lobbies were tied in with finance companies and stood to profit from not fixing the problems.
Essentially, Inside Job is a law suit against Wall Street. It systematically analyses the reasons behind the financial meltdown of 2008 and beyond and provides supporting evidence to show the viewer who caused it. Like a lot of the best documentaries, it is supposed to be a call to arms, a none-too-subtle prod in the ribs with a message. In this case, the message is that a bunch of greedy and arrogant executives took the world’s financial system to the brink of total collapse, costing tax payers billions of dollars, and the government let them go on doing what they do without any real consequences. Director Charles Ferguson used his award acceptance speech to remind the audience that nobody had ever been prosecuted for causing the GFC. Inside Job wants to know what are we going to do about it?
The moral of this rivetting court room thriller seems to be that the lessons of the GFC have been largely ignored; that the people responsible have never been brought to task on their actions and haven’t even changed their ways. It feels like watching an episode of Law and Order where the case fails and our heroes stare at the floor, helpless to stop more killing.
A strong case for the prosecution. 4 stars