After his critically acclaimed exposé on the American occupation of Iraq, No End in Sight, former White House advisor and software entrepreneur Charles H. Ferguson takes on the financial crisis of 2007-2010 with Inside Job, a relatively short documentary with a host of far-reaching ambitions. Despite the fact that the last few years have seen the publication of veritable mountains of scrupulously researched, book-length studies devoted to the explication of each individual cause of the meltdown, Inside Job attempts to explain it all: the subprime mortgage lending crisis and predatory lending, the deregulation of the financial industry, the nature of derivatives and market securitization, the corruption and venality of credit rating agencies and unethical Ivy League economics professors, the domestic and international backlash of the crisis—including bailouts, widespread home foreclosures, job losses, poverty—the rise of crony capitalism and even the psychopathology of investment bankers and the nature of greed.
Perhaps the most striking feature of Ferguson's film is his unique interview style: filming his often guarded subjects in a close, claustrophobic manner, he stands out of view of the camera and proceeds to, in an unabashed manner, needle, provoke and at times, peremptorily confront them, often leading to aggressive exchanges. In this sense, Ferguson's interviews, especially with hostile or uncooperative individuals unwilling to directly implicate themselves in any kind of ethical wrongdoing, can sometimes lead their subjects to reveal more through pregnant pauses, vehement obduracy and clumsy equivocations than they ever could through direct admissions. And although Ferguson extracts no direct "confessions" from unethical economics professors and prevaricating financial advisors, the dramatic effect is undeniable, which is key to his overall technique. While he—much like the SEC—finds it difficult to incontrovertibly prove the causalities between events depicted and the culpability of individuals and corporations in question, he consummately acquits himself by creating an atmosphere of suspicion that invites the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions.
However, as a result of time constraints, the film is unable to address its manifold themes with any real depth. It also asks far too many questions, many of which have no answers: towards the end of the film Ferguson posits that former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's having previously been an investment banker could be considered a conflict of interest, despite the fact that no evidence exists that Emanuel was in any way financially unscrupulous.
Of course, given the events of the last three years, it's difficult not to associate the entire financial industry with inherent evil or draw the conclusion that anyone who opposes stricter financial regulations is motivated solely by self-interest and greed, but that doesn't make such conclusions any less specious. That a healthy percentage of the film's 108 minutes is devoted to a discussion of Wall Street bankers' penchant for cocaine and prostitutes may have viewers scratching their heads, possibly thinking, "who cares if they use cocaine and prostitutes, they're going to bring about the end of the world as we know it... isn't that worse?" Nevertheless, Inside Job is a highly effective introduction to the abstruse financial innovations that led to this crisis.
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