Saturday 30 October 2010

Movie Review: Inside Job

Sometimes I can give a review which is so succinct; it can be measured in just a few words. In this case, I can do myself better by providing a review in just one word. Fantastic, riveting, unbelievable; there is quite a choice and all of them would well encapsulate my overall feelings about this movie. However, in reflecting on the story this film attempts to tell, a story which paints a portrait of the most pernicious behaviour of business and the complicity of the government in the worst financial crisis of probably all time, I would think the word which best captures the emotional impact of a system which is comprised of such greedy, short-sighted, egotistical blowhards would be "f**k".

Inside Job is a documentary about the financial crisis which started, well for the public, for the majority of us, in September 2008 with the bankruptcy of the bank Lehman Brothers. Directed by Charles Ferguson, co-written by him and narrated by Matt Damon, this film takes us through the early history of American banking from the Stock Market crash of 1929, the relatively secure subsequent 40 years then the start of a period of lobbying which led to unprecedented deregulation and the heralding of an era of uncontrolled rampant greed. As one of those interviewed during the film suggested it is the little people who ultimately pay.

The entire house of cards, the subprime mortgage mess, the derivative swaps craziness can be traced back to the 80's during the Regan era when big banks and investment houses successfully convinced government that they knew what they were doing. The film clearly explains how a lack of regulation permitted greedy people to involve themselves, to involve our money in investment schemes that now in the bright light of day seem absolutely ludicrous in their stupidity. However it is remarkable how various people tried and tried to sound the alarm but government officials who were in bed with Wall Street refused to do anything.

Even now that we seem somewhat out of the woods, I remain stunned by various right wing groups in America like the Tea Party who steadfastly repeat the mantra of less regulation, less government. It is this lack of oversight that put us all in this mess and it is this blind faith in a free market being able to regulate itself which fails to take into account the basic greed of the people who make up this system.

In my blog Regulations I discuss the BP oil spill and how they with other oil companies apparently lobbied the government to not be obliged to put on a safety value which costs a half a million dollars; this valve would have prevented the spill. Latest reports say the cost of the spill to BP is apparently from $20 to $30 billion. Oops.

But that's the American way: nobody is going to tell me what to do! Nevertheless, the entire financial mess comes back to individuals who are greedy, who are focused on their own needs and are unable to see the big picture.

The film talks of all the players from the heads of the major investment firms on Wall Street to the key Washington figures. What brought titters from the audience was the film talking of what somebody may have done then showing on the screen in text that this person refused to be interviewed. Of the people interviewed, some were forthright but some who were complicit in this mess came across in interviews as if what they did was not wrong or what they did had in no way caused a problem. It was a true testimony of our capacity to rationalize.

The film ended somewhat critical of President Obama. He came in on a platform recognising the problems on Wall Street with a promise to "change the system" however he has appointed several of the key players from business active during the mess and re-appointed government officials who were involved in ignoring the mess. The question is whether we blame Obama or whether this is indicative of how the system is so large, unwieldy and interconnected that at the end of the day, one has no choice but to go to bed with one's enemies.

One thing emphasised by the film is how this crisis has rippled throughout the world. It's not just the U.S., but the entire world which was affected. It is hard to conceive but the U.S. is the largest economy with a GDP of over 14 trillion dollars. The next biggest is Japan but they are only ranked at 5 trillion. Imagine that the U.S. is pretty much the size of the next 4 countries on the list: Japan, China, Germany and France. When the elephant rolls over, we all feel it.

However, as film bore out in discussing Iceland and the bankruptcy of literally the entire country and what I remember reading of other countries like France, England and Germany, what went wrong in the U.S. was not strictly restricted to that country. It seems this style of wild, unregulated investing was going on elsewhere in the world.

I have reviewed a number of films in the past couple of months. The best of the lot was The Social Network which is a real story. Fact wins over fiction. In this case, I would have to say that Inside Job is the best film I've seen this year. It is real; it is gripping and probably more horrifying that any of the so-called horror films that have hit the marquee this year. Like The Town, my 3 word review is "Go see it!" This is a terrific film and it will have you talking days after you've seen the movie. It completely deserves the 95% ranking from Rotten Tomatoes.


Rotten Tomatoes: Inside Job: 95%

Wikipedia: Inside Job

Interview with director Charles Ferguson plus the movie trailer


The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
interview with President Barack Obama
Tuesday, October  26, 2010
As the film ends on a critical note of President Obama, I thought to include a link to his visit to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stewart asked Obama some pointed questions of his presidency reflecting some disappointment at how things have been going.

Comedy Central (U.S.)

The Comedy Network (Canada)


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