Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Academy Screening #8: Inside Job

Best Documentary: Inside Job

Will it win? It's quite possible. I'd say it's a toss-up between Inside Job and Waste Land

Should it have been nominated? It philosophically bothers me, but it is quite a juggernaut.

I would like to thank Charles Ferguson and his filmmaking team for being angry. "Inside Job" is a much more effective entry into the "Fuck You" documentary subgenre than Gasland, which I reviewed earlier, to the point where I wonder how Gasland even got nominated within "Inside Job's" expensive shadow. When the film was done, I looked at my hands and they were shaking I was so angry. Not that there are any surprises in "Inside Job." It's basically an angry, sometimes one-sided retelling of every Planet Money podcast and This American Life episode dealing with the financial crisis. The difference is, "Inside Job" has a small (and in my opinion easily eschewed) chapter about a predatory lender setting up an innocent, ignorant home owner for almost ensured foreclosure, and This American Life has an episode where they look at both sides of the equation: one chapter about the innocent home owner, one about the innocent lender being taken for a ride as well. "Inside Job" would be better to delete its 'emotional' scenes rather than open itself up to the criticism of being biased, since it is an important topic that is easily scoffed at by partisan disbelief.

The movie is a string of interviews and graphics describing and investigating the financial collapse: the players, how it happened, how CDO's work, who did what and why regulation is a joke when there are conflicts of interest. And boy, are there conflicts of interest. Ferguson does ask some hardball questions to financial players, but whenever someone refused to talk to the filmmakers, they let you know with a sometimes snarky title screen: "____ wouldn't share their opinions with us," "___ refused to comment," etc. This sucks because, without fail, those who refused are the ones holding more responsibility. It makes the angry hardball interviews with lenders and Harvard professors seem insignificant, like none of us can really peak that far behind the curtain. There were two moments in the film I thought were unfair, like the interviewees didn't know what they were getting into. A wall street guy asks to turn the camera off.  A Harvard professor who advised Bush Jr. snaps at the interviewer (I assume it's Ferguson himself), "This isn't a deposition. I was kind enough to give you the time for this interview, foolishly I see now, but you have three minutes. Give it your best shot." The film proceeds to explain the professor's culpability in the whole scheme. And yes, he is culpable, but does any of his actions really get to the source of the problem? He's just a symptom of systematic corruption, so yes it is important to understand it but no, outing this man  does nothing to fix the problem. It attacks the sneeze and not the cold.

There are moments of sad candor, too. Eliot Spitzer, as usual, is candid on film, to the point of refusing to comment on the ability to use the indiscretions of wall street bankers against them for political gain. "Inside Job" and "Client 9" would be a good double feature: one systematic, one personal. 

The opening credits of the film are also totally infectious and hilarious. They do a great cocaine 80's buddy movie montage of New York. A great way to filmically reference the greed and excessive nature of the movie to come.

But if it wins, where do we have to go? "Inside Job" obviously has a huge budget, made very apparent by the incredible high-def airplane shots of New York and the semi-pissed off tone of Matt Damon's narration. It's more of a really nice power point presentation or an essay than a documentary. There's no present tense to the film: no action is captured, it just describes what happened or how or what will happen. There's no energy or being there to it. There's no humanity on film, which I think documentaries should always strive to find.

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