Inside Job, 2010.
Directed by Charles Ferguson.
Narrated by Matt Damon.
A documentary exposing the shocking truth behind the global economic crisis of 2008.
Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job, the documentary that is now on everybody’s lips courtesy of an Oscar win, has captured the attention of almost everyone that always had that inkling that what their governments tell them aren’t always “nothing but the truth”. Yes, I’m talking about that rowdy posse of misfits; scruffily groomed with dreadlocks and peace bracelets we call the conspiracy theorists. But this film-style documentary doesn’t just grab the attention of the born-to-be anarchists, but has now rustled the feathers of the famous, the middle and upper class yuppies and the intellectual community too. For never has a subject like the global recession had so wide an impact then the now infamous day of 9/11.
It was a few days before the general elections when I was sitting with some friends in a pub discussing whom we were all voting for and why. The table was generally divided in terms of loyalty to the various parties running for power, but one subject that my friends were all unified about was the question of which political party had the soundest, most plausible ideas for bringing us out of this “bloody” recession. All of us sitting there had a story about a member of our families or a colleague or a friend of a friend who they knew had been directly affected by the recession. To my surprise most of the people in the discussion were too busy disputing which side was responsible most for the countries debt, but not once were the roles of the bankers or the bank chiefs or their insane salaries and bonuses, ever mentioned.
It was for this evidence of ignorance and obvious social deception that I witnessed in those semi-heated friendly talks, that the arrival of Inside Job has become a welcome awakening to our ever dumbed-down modern culture. A documentary displayed in a cinematic frame, but which is successful in trying to explain a subject which in general we’re told is “too complicated” to be understood by those who are not in the economic field. But the documentary uses a smaller-scale economy like that of Iceland’s to show how an experiment, a prelude to what became the behemoth of all economic meltdowns was duplicated on a grander scale. Ferguson’s use of separating the documentary into sections with story like chapters helps to tell the tale in a clear linear form. From the great 80s feel of the Reagan era when he was at his Hollywoodised best and a time when Wall Street and the banks began their conquest to rule the world, to the drug and sex fueled culture of the modern banker, we are shown how the rise of this new monetary religion began. The great use of music against the visuals from that era gives the segments a more relevant feel. The documentary begins by rightly asking, “how?” does a country whose GDP of $13 billion let itself be exploited by de-regulation and brought to it’s knees with a $100 billion bank loss, which benefited the likes of Jon Asgeir Johannesson with his ridiculous pin-stripe jet. The simple description of the global economic crisis through the case study of Iceland’s downfall definitely makes the rest of the documentary easier to follow.
Cue music, Peter Gabriel “I’m on my way, I’m making it” set against the bright lights and the bustling backdrop of New York and a little area in Manhattan called Wall Street, we are introduced to the characters of our story who by the end of that decisive clip, we can safely make a judgment about who they are and which way they sway on the subject. It’s the well-designed interview questions, aimed at the academic elites, governmental workers and an array of Wall Street cronies that make for the large part of the entertainment. The basic gist of how the crisis came about, step by step, from the banks’ constant involvement in various scandals, their involvement with South American drug lords and dictators to the constant moves to de-regulate the financial practices and finally succeeding, make the analysis of the roots of this problem look thorough.
The explanation of the ‘How?’ is shown through the intimate questions aimed at those we already have suspicions of being involved in this defrauding scheme. Scott Talbot, Chief lobbyist on the financial services roundtable, when asked how he believed that this situation came about answers by saying that with “large companies” sometimes “mistakes happen”. And with this the tone of the ‘bad-guys’ in this tragic story is clearly set.
It’s the arrogant nature with which many of these negatively portrayed characters answer simple open questions, which essentially make them dig their own holes deeper and deeper. Ben Bernankie, former head of the board of the Federal Reserve is reduced to talking gibberish and constantly tripping over his words when asked why he had left his post at such a critical time when his supposed expertise were needed, his answer was that he had to complete an important paper he was writing. Even the dean of Columbia Business school, Glen Hubbard, whose records show that he clearly has a conflict of interest when it came to teaching the next generation of economists while being paid lucrative amounts of money to advise on the boards of the same banks that were the cause of global economic crisis, actually gets heated by the interviewers questioning telling him to “give it his best shot” in trying to paint him as one of the chief catalysts to the problem.
Showing its audience through the use of diagrams and charts we’re shown how the banks through new laws which they themselves influenced heavily to be passed, concocted schemes to create easy to sell mortgages that were known to be ‘shitty deals’ by the heads but which they still were allowed by the governing regulatory boards to trade with. The nervous look of some of the bankers during congressional hearing scenes and their inability to answer the questions, instead attempting to dodge them, made them look more and more guilty.
We’re shown how the big banks spend over $5 billion lobbying and campaigning to get their allies into the White House and how through the placement of like minded financial individuals and how through infiltrations into the administrations, they are able to change century old laws which were designed to protect the countries economy from situations like the one we are in now. It then examines how this move essentially gave the banks free reign to do whatever they wanted with their customers’ money but at no risk to their own earnings when, inevitably, it all collapsed.
The documentary ends with a look at the current administration and the promises that they made before they came to power and subsequently asks the question has anything changed? The inevitable answer is ‘very little’. The same people who were responsible for the economic collapse are still in positions of governmental control and the banks are still operating freely as before. The tragedy of the whole situation is that not one person has been charged or gone to jail. People like Joseph Cassano, CEO of AIG are still being kept on in a £1 million monthly advisory role and living luxuriously in Knightsbridge. None of the main banks have been penalised. Instead they have become stronger, wield more power in the corridors of justice and power and now monopolise the financial sector completely. Those who for decades taught the first generation of cash junkies to con the system, are still teaching at the same institutions with the added bonus of bank incentives to no doubt churn out more of the next generation of green making machines.
The documentary, which is evocatively narrated by Matt Damon, leaves you feeling angered at the blatant lack of action from any entities of power to stop this, but it doesn’t leave you void of hope. The “Wall Street government” we’re told, isn’t powerless to turn things around. In not so many words we’re told that we the people can still make a difference, create change, that there are still those like Eliot Spitzer, the New York Attorney General who was the victim of a smear campaign, who care enough to reshape the economic landscape. Ultimately the documentary ends on a powerful note that no matter how bad the situation has become, there are still some things that “are worth fighting for”.
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