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Film

Inside Job

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Inside Job

Directed by Charles Ferguson

Opens Nov. 5

Read Edward Ericson Jr.'s interview with Charles Ferguson.

If you’re not mad enough yet, Charles Ferguson can fix that.

The writer, director, and producer of this 90-minute documentary lays out the causes of the financial meltdown and so-called Great Recession in a clear and compelling way, taking the viewer from the Reagan deregulation through the bubble’s aftermath, all with 20-20 hindsight. That sounds like a slap, but it isn’t.

Nicely shot and briskly edited, with barely a sliver of humor in any frame, Inside Job supplies 100 percent of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance of pure anger, and it aims all its guns at the right (and familiar) targets—Greenspan, Summers, Rubin—as well as some you may have overlooked, such as Scott Talbott, chief lobbyist of the Financial Services Roundtable. In response to a question about the billions paid to the bankers even after the crash, Talbott says, “They earned it.”

Ferguson, a former professor turned software millionaire, reserves special contempt for the academics—Glenn Hubbard of Columbia and Martin Feldstein of Harvard, for instance—who prostituted their university credentials in the service of the scam artists and their financial innovations. But Inside Job’s most salacious section comes in the middle, where Ferguson talks to a psychiatrist who claims to have treated many Wall Streeters, and an actual prostitute who says the same. Cutting back and forth between those interviews, it becomes clear that the big bankers put their coke habits and their hookers on their corporate expense accounts. Not surprising, perhaps, but not merely titillating either.

Throughout the movie, Ferguson cuts back repeatedly to Eliot Spitzer, the once-crusading New York attorney general and governor disgraced by his own prostitution scandal in 2008. Spitzer has the predictable things to say about the big bankers he’d clearly like to prosecute, but to get to them, one would need to start low on the value chain, with the hookers-on-expense-account guys. Given that putting hookers on one’s expense account is illegal, it could, theoretically, be done. Yet nothing of the sort is happening.

Inside Job calls for reform of the system, but after detailing the bulletproof wealth-transfer machine whose bailout has already cost U.S. taxpayers trillions, Ferguson leaves his viewers in despair. Only the needy need happy endings, and dumb hope, as we’ve seen, is not a useful philosophy. But one still wishes that Inside Job could give its audience something more motivational than raw cynicism and rage.

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