When the envelope was opened last Sunday, one of my favorite films from last year, Exit Through the Gift Shop, lost to a documentary I had yet to see. Anticipating some of Banksy’s potential antics, I blamed the result on the Academy voting against the elusive artist instead of voting for any given film. Now that Inside Job has come out on DVD, I see that they were completely right. Exit Through the Gift Shop remains one of my favorite films of the year, but if ever a documentary deserved that Oscar, it’s this one: a film so relevant, so timely, and so perfectly executed that it has earned all of its recognition.
To put it simply, Inside Job tells the story of the events leading up to, and directly resulting from, the 2008 financial crisis, including both the bailout and the so-called “Great Recession.” But it refuses to do what everyone else in this country has done – it looks intently at a rising culture and the participation of people on both sides of the party line, instead of devolving into simple partisan bickering.
It begins in the 1980’s (although the film hints at roots much earlier), during the Wall Street Boom. In the words of Gordon Gecko, “Greed, for lack of a better word, [was] good.” Gecko, from Oliver Stone’s timely Wall Street, seems like one of the more evil film characters. But unlike HAL 9000 or Darth Vader, there exists not one, but many versions of Gecko throughout New York. Some of the people in Inside Job are even worse.
We move through the 90’s and the time of Bill Clinton and Alan Greenspan, both of whom contributed heavily to the instability that would come. All of these people involved, though, saw the opportunities available to them as being short-term. Deregulating banks meant there was a surge in “good money;” by setting up the sub-prime lending structure, more people could get houses. The flaws built up over time, and the potential for economic catastrophe escalated until it burst.
Chris Ferguson, the film’s director, makes clear that the fact that these men existed in a culture doesn’t absolve them of the crimes they committed. When he accepted his Oscar, Ferguson gave this speech: “Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong.” Mary and Richard Corliss, as quoted in the above poster said “If you’re not enraged by the end of this movie, you weren’t paying attention.” And they could not be more right. Some of the interviews with the people responsible will make you want to punch your TV. Whats worse, though, is that instead of prosecuting them for their crimes, we get to see a handful become teachers. These men who destroyed our economy have been relocated into the educational system, and they are teaching their policies to business school systems, perpetuating the problem.
Inside Job is like a Shakespearean tragedy. It is built in 5 acts, the climax of which falls in the middle. The actions at the beginning lead directly to the actions at the end. But Ferguson shows that the loose ends are not tied up by the conclusion of the film. The people responsible for doubling our national debt, the people responsible for putting millions of people out of jobs and out of homes, the people responsible for almost destroying our national infrastructure, let alone an international economic crisis, walk free on the streets. Watch this documentary, see them squirm in their seats as they avoid giving answers, and then watch as they walk out the door and work for the government, and you will realize how little you can do. Doesn’t that just make you mad as hell?