Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New Release Review: Inside Job (Charles Ferguson, 2010)

Charles Ferguson's captivating and comprehensive investigation into the origins and effects of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis is the front-runner amongst this year's strong group of nominees for Best Documentary Feature. With most of the world wondering what happened back in 2008, we finally receive what appears to be definitive proof of the individuals involved. It is a truly shocking revelation, that delves into the complex defrauding techniques of Wall Street's leading merchant bankers and insurance company CEO's, who invented methods of turning mortgage debts of national citizens into multi-billion dollar investments via credit default swaps and the derivative market. This was made easier for these companies by the decisions of political advisers and financial bureaucrats who heartily lobbied to keep the system deregulated. Ferguson's scathing examination points fingers at almost everybody, but especially former Federal Reserve and Treasury advisers Alan Greenspan and Hank Paulson, who have been involved with the Federal Government from terms dating back to before Bill Clinton. Ferguson argues that some of the most destructive decisions were made during the term of Clinton, where two of his closest advisers, James Rubin and Larry Summers, were successful in lobbying against legislation that had constrained banks from indulging in high-risk credit loans. The crisis began when the credit ratings of AIG (one of the largest insurance corporations in America) were discovered to be far less than many within the financial services industry had speculated and traded upon. They suddenly had to cover the costs of loans and debts they had no money for.  It is these high-risk loans, falsely rated to appear like top investments, which made the most money for the ludicrously greedy high-stakes investors. But as a result, the American economy was crippled, with trillions of dollars in investment losses, and left millions of people unemployed and in financial ruin.

Ferguson tries to interview some of the major players, but to no surprise, all of them refused his request. Ferguson still manages to make some important men squirm uncomfortably. One of the most notable is Glenn Hubbard, the Dean of Columbia University's Business School, who recoils from his smug complacency when his sideline work as a consultant to several big financial service companies is raised. He refuses to comment about the extent of his outside earnings from those companies. Another case is that of Frederic Mishkin, a former member of the US Federal Reserve, who nervously stammers excuses after Ferguson asks him about the favorable report he wrote about the stability of the economy of Iceland, several months after it had begun to crash disastrously. He was allegedly paid $124,000 from the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce for the article. Amongst a formidable line-up of testimonials, Ferguson even interviews a brothel keeper who states that many of her high paying clientele were Wall Street entrepreneurs, who regularly paid for her services with company credit cards.

Inside Job is a meticulously constructed masterpiece of investigative journalism that not only covers the period of the crisis, but also delves into decades worth of history about the U.S Financial Sector. He even begins the film in Iceland, with a series of stunning cinematic captures of the picturesque country, and explains the disastrous crash to its very stable and prospering economy when the deregulation policies were introduced. The same policies are introduced by Washington and remained unchanged through the terms of Clinton, George W. Bush and now Barrack Obama. Amidst many experts desperate public forecast of the impending crisis (Ferguson reveals numerous journals and books written on the topic), no steps were ever taken to prevent it, despite their awareness of the threat. What is so maddening, and I guarantee you will be leave the cinema enraged, is that most of the corrupt CEO's actually walk away from the destruction of their agencies with their huge bonuses still intact, and many still hold down prominent government advisory positions. Even more of a revelation, is that many of the academics implicated in the documentary have huge influence at America's leading business schools. Inside Job is densely informative and full of complex financial chatter and accompanying diagrams, but this is essential viewing for everyone. In a year of fantastic documentaries, this is one that will forever be remembered as a feat of scathing revelation.

My Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

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