Saturday, October 16, 2010

NOW PLAYING: "Inside Job" Essential Information for the Well-Informed: Movie Review

"Inside Job", Charles Ferguson's documentary about the causes and effects of the 2008 global financial crisis, is immensely valuable in understanding the complexities of what happened, and why the world's economy is in dire straits.  Every  American citizen who wants to be well-informed should see this.

The early part of the film sets up the history of the financial industry and the regulations that were in place after the Great Depression.  The last two thirds deftly weaves ominous interview footage with facts and images that detail everything from the collusions between Wall Street and the White House, risk-taking psychology, and the role of top universities in perpetuating the culture of greed and corruption.

All of it great information, but is it a great film?  Among current documentaries, I think it also a great film. The documentary format is producing some of the most important films in release.  The genre requires more than simply treating a popular or controversial subject to produce an easy audience response.  With documantaires, I look for new insights and information, or a new light on the conventional wisdom; a gutsy and honest stand on the material; a look at consequences and repercussions for life outside of the theater; and subtle and straightforward filmmaking.  I fall away as soon as I feel manipulated.

"Inside Job" is both indispensable as a source of important information and education, and as a valuable addition to the pantheon of excellent documentary films. 

I held my breath early on, as the groundwork is laid and the culprits and heroes are introduced. I was reminded of the dry educational movies we watched in high school, on a portable 16-millimeter projector.

But then, like a subtle and subversive classroom upstart, Ferguson takes aim at the sacred cows and exposes the hypocrisy and barely veiled dishonesty and contempt.  The interviews become more pointed as the on-camera subjects stutter and stumble their way through Ferguson's minefield of sensible questions with which he weaves a trap to capture the deceptions. One interviewee even demands that the camera be shut off at one point.  The many high-profile players who refused to be interviewed come under especially focused scrutiny.

No one comes away unscathed.  The film  is at pains to give an honest account of the history of our financial downfall--the deregulation, greed, corruption among each administration since Reagan.  I wondered if the film would somehow protect Mr. Obama, and turn the film into a Democratic campaign ad.  Fortunately, Ferguson trains his lens on the Wall-Street insider club that forms Obama's group of economic advisers, thus maintaining a sorry status quo.

I admire the film for making clear the complexities of ideas like leverage and credit default swaps, for explaining why major institutions went bust and the effects around the world, and for creating such a user-friendly timeline of the plunge, the bailout, and the effects on Main Street.

A couple of omissions left me wondering:  The film does not take the media head-on for its complicity and lack of coverage.  Also, the notorious October 16, 2005 memo by CitiGroup to its investors, describing a deliberate strategy to concentrate wealth and power among the world's wealthiest 1%, and introducing and defining the term Plutonomy, is ignored.
(An excerpt appears below).

This memo first came to my attention in Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story", for which "Inside Job" would be an excellent companion piece.  While Ferguson's film is fact-centered and determined to allow the average voter to understand what is at stake, Moore uses irony to stir emotions. I reviewed "Capitalism: A Love Story" here on October 11, 2009.

Matt Damon reads the narration with conviction. I could not tell if he relished or regretted describing the insidious manner in which schools like Harvard (Damon's Alma mater for a year) earn millions in consulting positions that conflict with their interests as educators. 

(I wish the final image was not of the Statue of Liberty.  There are so many things worth fighting for, but Lady Liberty is a lazy image for those things, especially when millions of our tired, poor, huddled masses still yearn to breathe free.)

Once again, I highly recommend "Inside Job". Make a special trip if necessary.

KevinPhillips in his masterly“Wealth and Democracy” argues that a few common factors
seem to support“wealth waves” - a fascination with technology (an Anglo-Saxon thing
according to him), the role of creative finance, a cooperative government, an
international dimension of immigrants and overseas conquests invigorating wealth
creation, the rule of law, and patenting inventions. Often these wealth waves involve
great complexity.

WHY THE PLUTONOMY WILL GET STRONGER WHERE IT EXISTS, PERHAPS ATTRACT NEW COUNTRIES We posit that the drivers of plutonomy in the U.S. (the UK and Canada) are likely to
strengthen, entrenching and buttressing plutonomy where it exists. The six drivers of the
current plutonomy: 1) an ongoing technology/biotechnology revolution, 2) capitalist-
friendly governments and tax regimes, 3) globalization that re-arranges global supplychains with mobile well-capitalized elites and immigrants, 4) greater financial
complexity and innovation, 5) the rule of law, and 6) patent protection are all well
ensconced in the U.S., the UK, and Canada. They are also gaining strength in the
emerging world.

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