Anthony's Film Review
Inside Job (2010)
Finally, a documentary that makes a recent financial disaster crystal clear to everyone...
"The global economic crisis of 2008 cost tens of millions of people their savings, their jobs, and their homes. This is how it happened."
These are the words that appear against a black background in the first few seconds of Inside Job, a documentary film produced and directed by Charles Ferguson. I mention this because it's a simple message that says a lot. It reminds everyone that the financial crisis of 2008, the Great Recession, had a tremendous negative impact on so many people by shattering the American dream. Additionally, it tells the audience that the proceeding film will explain it all. Anyone who felt very confused by the details of the crisis may be curious about what Inside Job has to show.
Interestingly enough, the first scene before the opening credits takes place in Iceland. For a while, it had been a utopia with gorgeous and pristine natural landscapes, stability of its banking system, and universal healthcare, all because of tight government regulation. But one day, that regulation disappeared. Environmentally unfriendly energy corporations moved in to profit off the land. Consumers became overly liberated in their spending habits. Eventually, things took a turn for the worst.
Of course, the whole movie isn't about Iceland. It's about the United States, the country that has not just suffered significantly from recession but has also triggered similar effects in other countries around the world. After all, local economies are connected into essentially one global economy. But that's not the only fascination with the United States. The fact that illicit practices on Wall Street are complicated and secretive adds to the intrigue, not to mention our curiosity about how this crisis happened.
For approximately two hours, Inside Job explains it all with footage, interviews, graphical illustrations, and solid narration by actor Matt Damon. In the beginning, there was the Great Depression of 1929, which led to new government regulations that prevented another catastrophe and allowed the economy to grow steadily over decades. That all changed when U.S. President Ronald Reagan deregulated the financial industry. This allowed banks to take risks with the American people's money, leading to the savings and loan crisis, the burst of the tech bubble, and, of course, the housing bust.
I loved how the film answers every question I've had about this disaster. I gained a much better understanding of the connections between ordinary people, subprime mortgage lenders, investment banks, investors, and securities rating agencies, not to mention why the insurance giant AIG was a big deal in all of this. The terms "mortgage-backed securities" and "credit default swap" no longer seemed like foreign language. When it came to the government bailout of AIG and the American auto industry, I could sense how the decisions were controversial but perhaps necessary. Overall, I could picture how money flowed from the wallets of everyday Americans into the coffers of greedy investors.
Aside from the intellectual content, I also appreciated the film for appealing to our emotions. I agree with critics who say that Inside Job is sure to anger you. It is very clear that selfish, egotistical, undeserving investors are the ones hoarding almost all of the wealth, not the truly hard-working Americans. This had been happening under our noses before the crisis, and it's still happening afterwards because of bonuses awarded to executives even as the rest of the country is suffering. It is true that financial giants like Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and Morgan Stanley came crashing down, but I don't think they deserve any sympathy.
But perhaps my greatest source of rage from the film was with Goldman Sachs. Not only did this investment bank take out insurance policies on securities in case they failed, but they also KNEW the securities were bad, intentionally selling them as safe investments. This led to the notable moment on CSPAN in which, during a congressional hearing with executives at Goldman Sachs, U.S. Senator Carl Levin reads out one line from an internal Goldman Sachs e-mail that demonstrates fraud within the company: "That Timberwolf was one $#%(@% deal." And this was live television, so a lot of Americans paid extra attention.
Speaking of wealthy jerks, I thought it was amusing how many individuals refused to be interviewed for this film. I didn't count how many times the film mentioned a refusal to be interviewed, but it seemed to equal the number of people who were willing to be interviewed. Many of them were on the side of the people, but there were a few stuck-up people who provided comments but were clearly being evasive. For me, two examples of such interviewees stood out: Frederic Mishkin (former member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System) and R. Glenn Hubbard (dean of Columbia Business School). Though I know little about their career accomplishments, I couldn't help but think how these two men were just plain arrogant. Because let's face it. Greed from the financial industry has also infiltrated the government and academia.
Hopefully, all of this illustrates how great Inside Job is. It doesn't do anything too fancy with its style or content. It just tells it like it is. In an economic recession, it's nice to have movies, both factual and fictional, that allow audiences to explore the topic. So far, we've had Michael Moore's documentary Capitalism: A Love Story and the Oliver Stone-directed film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Inside Job is another fine addition to this set of films, and I recommend it.
For more information about Inside Job, visit the Internet Movie Database.