Inside Job (Sony Pictures Classics, PG-13)

Such a seemingly dry and truly infuriating subject as the current financial crisis actually turns out to be thrilling in Ferguson’s hands.

There’s a certain type of movie that plays at art houses to great acclaim but never finds as big an audience as it deserves, because it sounds too much like an art house movie—i.e. a downer, and/or something that makes you have to think (or read). And of course the critics always plead with people to see said movie because it is important, but few people ever do. Inside Job is one of those movies.
Admittedly it doesn’t sound like a very fun way to spend an evening—dropping $10 per person to see a documentary on how we got into the financial crisis we are currently in, both as a country and globally. Director Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight) knows that the subject sounds unexciting, so he layers lots of swooping, helicopter-assisted cityscape shots in between the requisite footage of talking heads and includes the occasional pop song on the soundtrack (“Taking Care of Business,” MGMT’s “Congratulations,”). But I could have done without all of this. He should have more faith in his material, as it is lucid, entertaining and accessible.
Such a seemingly dry and truly infuriating subject as the current financial crisis actually turns out to be thrilling in Ferguson’s hands, and this can be directly attributed to his skills as an interviewer. Of course a lot of the major players won’t grant him interviews: no Alan Greenspan, no one from Goldman Sachs or Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers. Instead, most of the people he interviews are published authors on the subject or respected economists, most of whom are basically brought in as citations for Ferguson’s thesis (which is something past theory at this point).
However, enough key players grant Ferguson interviews to keep things interesting, and they become all the more interesting through Ferguson’s intelligence and fearlessness as an interviewer. And I don’t mean fearless in the sense of embarrassing his interviewees or asking personal questions like an idiot; I mean fearless in showing his interviewees that he is smarter than they are instead of just sitting and smiling politely while they lie to him. (One has to wonder how many people will be willing to line up to be interviewed in Ferguson’s next film.) It only comes down to calling people on lies a few times, but it is extremely satisfying when it happens. Glenn Hubbard (Chief Economic Advisor during the Bush administration) and Frederic Mishkin (a member of the Board of Governors at the Federal Reserve from ’06-08) get hit the hardest, and these scenes crackle with the intensity of Barbara Kopple’s “I think I might’ve misplaced mine, too” face-off with thug Basil Collins in the great 1976 documentary Harlan County, U.S.A.
Many critics have already pointed out that there are some glaring omissions in Inside Job (which I don’t view as politically motivated, but more a result of limited time and availability of subjects), and from time to time it does get bogged down in jargon. You may still not quite understand what derivatives are or how they work after seeing this film. That said, it’s hard to imagine a better argued or clearer overview of the descent into this mess in such a short (108 minute) amount of time, and harder still to imagine it being as entertaining as Inside Job. | Pete Timmermann

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