Director: Charles Ferguson
Stars: Matt Damon (narrator).
“The Film That Cost Over $20,000,000,000,000 To Make”
In and around Oscar season, I usually find myself watching a lot of documentaries. It’s not really a conscious choice, more of a natural knee-jerk reaction to the amount of hysterical hyperbole buzzing around the movie world in the first few months of the year. A healthy dose of reality to reinvigorate the mind and soul. Of course, most documentaries ultimately come off as more unlikely than the strangest of fiction. Inside Job is no different, it is a disaster movie of epic, global proportion.
The credit crunch instigated a financial epidemic that wiped $20 trillion off the world stock markets. That is equivalent to the annual GDP of the United States, United Kingdom and Germany – three of the largest economies in the world. Millions of people lost their jobs and homes. The most frightening aspect was the speed of the disaster, which was dangerously close to a complete cardiac arrest of the global financial system. Inside Job explores the warning signs and how they were largely ignored or arrogantly dismissed. There were crises before, in the 80s and late 90′s (dot com collapse) each substantially more severe than its predecessor. Profit and greed however, have no memory.
The film opens in Iceland, an idyllic stable democracy which is largely self sufficient. However, once the cold arm of corporate greed reaches in, the horizon soon darkens. Deregulated provision of natural resources and financial services resulted in a country with a GDB of $13bn racking up bank losses of $100bn. Iceland was a blip on the radar, but still an early sign of looming disaster. The film then goes on to effectively simplify the over-arching causes of the disaster; pointing largely towards the lack of regulation of the markets and increasingly complex financial instruments being used to speculate (gamble) on anything from oil prices to the weather. The completely unregulated derivatives market is worth $50 trillion, attempts to control the market were dismissed by government officials who received $5bn political contributions from Wall Street between 1998 and 2008. Collateralised debt obligations were used to lump in all kinds of debt (from mortgages and credit card debt to student loans) into one easy to manage unit which could be sold. Subprime mortgages were the favoured component of CDO given the higher interest rate the loans attracted.
The well structured documentary utilises a chapter-type narrative structure which establishes a distinct chronology to the film. The background to the situation is thoroughly and impartially discussed, we then explore the area which is most likely to rile the average viewer: The Bubble. From 2000-2007, the big banks really were making obscene amounts of money. The CEOs and exec’s were treated and behaved like royalty. There were private elevators, fleets of private jets, high class hookers charged back to the company’s expense account and by several accounts rampant use of cocaine. The film does present a largely one sided view of the situation, sure the filmmaker has an agenda and he does his best to offer an opportunity to those eager to insist the blame is not solely borne by the banks. The argument is a little unbalanced, but then I suppose if you were making a documentary about the holocaust it would be pretty one sided too.
Filmmaker Charles Ferguson recruits an impressively diverse panel of interviewees, each of whom deliver their own take on the cause and impact of the 2008 global financial disaster. Ferguson is extremely well informed and as such poses incisive and penetrating questions to Wall Street bankers, politicians, lobbyists, senior academics and esteemed financial commentators from The Financial Times and Wall Street Journal. He is mostly content to remain in the background, a calm voice off screen. Occasionally the audience can feel his blood boil, when his questions are deflected or when he is just straight-up lied to; a slight wavering in an otherwise flawless voice of professionalism is his only tell. A fascinating examination and exposé on the causes of the credit crunch and global recession told with a measured and intelligent narrative. It succeeds in simplifying complex financial principles and distilling the salient information.
I doubt that when Oliver Stone made Wall Street, he could ever have foreseen it as a rallying call to arms for a generation of up and coming traders and financial brokers. It has bred a ruthless army of pin-striped mercenaries who worship at the feet of “greed-is-good” overlord Gordon Gecko. The things is, greed remains. We are only just inching our way from the crippling hardship of a long recession, the big banks remain – many bolstered through cheap acquisitions during the economy’s lowest ebb – predatorily consuming failing banks; JP Morgan, Bank of America and Wells Fargo are now bigger than ever. The Obama Administration’s hard-line promises on financial reform have not manifested, undoubtedly victim to financial lobbyists and the self serving interests of America’s ruling elite. The real tragedy in the situation, which Inside Job alluded to – is that while Wall Street is bailed out, individual homeowners are not. There has not been a single prosecution let alone conviction, disgraced CEOs left with their fortunes in tact, whilst tented refugee camps pop up to house those left jobless and homeless.
Charles Ferguson does a fantastic job with this documentary, there is no personal exploitation of individuals a la Michael Moore, he provides an intelligent and overarching view of the complete situation with succinct explanations of complex concepts. His target is not just the bankers, but the interconnected network of the powerful and influential. This ranges from politicians to honoured academics to the ratings agencies and of course the banks. Wall Street could not have done this alone, the lack of ‘supervision’ is key. During 2000-2007, the Stock Exchange Commission launched no major investigations, their Risk Management department had a staff of one. Any worries raised regarding the relaxed limits on bank leverage guidelines or personal borrowings was ignored. Everyone was getting rich, who cares?! The short term incentives enjoyed by few, led to long term suffering for many millions. Inside Job is essential viewing.
2011 : A Film Odyssey is the movie review site of Chris Vaughan.
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