Tuesday 23 November 2010

Movie Review: Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

For those of you who do not remember, Eliot Spitzer was a New York lawyer who first became New York State Attorney General then the 54th Governor of New York. After little more than one year in office, a prostitution scandal broke in which his involvement forced him to resign. That's it in a nutshell however the story is much more than that.

As a lawyer, he worked in the Manhattan's District Attorney's office and was involved in pursuing organized crime. He launched the investigation which brought down the Gambino family.

In 1998 he became New York State Attorney General and it was in this role he developed a reputation for going after white collar crime. His record is quite impressive pursuing such things as price fixing, stock price inflation, predatory lending practices and fraud at AIG. His investigative work brought about the mutual fund scandal of 2003 with the discovery of illegal trading.

In 2007 he became governor with a first year in office that looked promising in him possibly changing Albany, the state capital, well known for being corrupt. On March 10, 2008 the prostitution scandal came to light and he resigned on March 17.

The film is excellent, receiving a rating of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. While there is the titillation of a man brought down by sex, I found the other aspects of the film to be a fascinating recounting of bad things going on in politics and big business.

In listening to the story and in doing subsequent reading, I am left with the impression of a good man with good intentions doing good things. In the movie it was suggested he could have been the first Jewish president ah, but for one thing. Let's not forget that this is the puritanical United States and as someone in the film pointed out, if this had taken place in France, Spitzer could have still run for president. I remember how everybody was going after Bill Clinton left, right and centre as someone in the film remarks "for getting a b**wjob in the Oval Office" while at the time Jacques Chirac of France had a mistress, everybody knew about it and nobody batted an eye. Why? The French couldn't have cared about Chirac's private life; they were concerned about the job he was doing as president. Ah, the U.S. and France: vive la différence!

The supposed main girl of the scandal is one Ashley Dupré who has attempted to cash in on her notoriety by posing for Playboy, writing a love/sex column for the NY Times and making a record; she's a singer. However, the surprise of the film is that Spitzer only saw Dupré once. There was another girl whom he saw regularly but she agreed to work with the film makers only if her anonymity was maintained. We never see the woman or hear her voice. The film uses an actress who speaks the words penned by this unknown escort who was Spitzer's main squeeze. This mystery woman is never revealed in the film and remains unknown. It was she and not Dupré who provided the details of Spitzer's affair.

The other surprise of this film is the main character of the film: Spitzer himself. He is interviewed extensively throughout the film; yes, he cooperated fully with the film makers responding to all sorts of questions, some of them personal including why did he think he strayed. Spitzer admits he's not sure why he went a little nuts; why he would do something so foolish and reckless but he does throw himself on the sword and makes no attempt to delude us or himself with some twisted justification. I had to chuckle but I also had to admire his forthrightness. In my blog It seemed like a good idea at the time I discuss how men do crazy things but at the end of the day, the reason is sometimes nothing more than crazy compulsiveness: It seemed like a good idea at the time. I think back to watching Hillary with Bill at various press conferences after his scandal broke then in this film watching Silda Wall with her husband Spitzer. Returning to the puritanical U.S., it makes me reflect on what these women were thinking when they had to face the supposed ultimate of betrayals.

The shame of it all is that Spitzer was a good man who was doing good things. The unfortunate thing for the rest of us is that now we are deprived of that good man. As Attorney General, Spitzer was already in the face of Wall Street uncovering white collar crime. He was in the thick of it dealing with the run up to the financial crisis; he was aware of the idiocy going on before things fell apart; he was going after those who were playing fast and loose with our money.

Spitzer was responsible for uncovering an accounting fraud at AIG in 2005 which resulted in the Maurice Greenberg, the CEO being forced to resign. There are charges still pending against Greenberg although Greenberg has already paid a $15 million fine for some of them. The film details some of what Greenberg was involved with, shady indeed, but when interviewed on camera, Greenberg acts the innocent like "Moi?" This was one of the leaders of Wall Street who contributed to its downfall.

The people discussed in the film, the various politicians, leaders of Wall Street, etc. have a tainted look about them. Nefarious backroom dealings were going on and nobody liked Spitzer shining the light of day on them. The film, in unravelling just how the whole scandal was discovered, does bring up the question as to whether or not one of Spitzer's enemies may have had something to do with informing the authorities of Spitzer's indiscretions. There can be no doubt Spitzer as both Attorney General and Governor was not well liked by many. Spitzer was taking the high road with the intention of not sticking with the status quo which seemed to involve turning a blind eye to corruption. It's a shame to see Spitzer gone.

Or is he? In the film, somebody talked of how Clinton has managed to recover from his own scandal. Will Spitzer do the same? I asked myself why Spitzer would have cooperated with the film maker and for all intents and purposes been the star in this film. I believe the answer lies in the film's story. Yes, there was a scandal; yes, there were some dalliances with some escorts but the entire story shows the impressive track record of a man who fights against corruption; who doesn't accept that things have to remain the same that this is how the world works. Spitzer admits to being flawed but he is also telling the whole story: "Look at the good things I've done."

Since his resignation, Spitzer has made numerous public appearances including publishing articles in various newspapers about the economy and the financial crisis. He has also made television appearances on shows like The Colbert Report and Real Time with Bill Maher so one has to assume he has taken his lumps over the scandal. As of October, 2010, Spitzer has joined a political commentary show on CNN.

Client 9 is an interesting film, a fascinating look at a real story. I would recommend it and would consider this an excellent pairing with the film Inside Job for a thorough look at the events which shaped the first decade of the new millennium including the global financial crisis.


Rotten Tomatoes: Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer: 88%

Wikipedia: Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

official web site: Client 9

The Internet Movie Database: Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

Wikipedia: Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal

Wikipedia: Eliot Spitzer


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