If you weren’t outraged enough by the shenanigans on Wall Street that led to our present financial crisis, Charles Ferguson’s “Inside Job” makes sure to twist the knife already in our backs. The documentary is a dizzying succession of interviews with some of the world’s leading financial experts as well as a dissection of how the inherently corrupt nexus between our financial and regulatory systems led to the global cataclysms touched off in 2008. While it’s rightfully indignant in tone and chock full of incisive history and information, those qualities are also what make “Inside Job” an experience in overkill.
Not that anger and disgust aren’t absolutely justified given how recklessly Wall Street’s rogue financial industry operated. But, as a viewer and citizen, my sentiments have always been tempered by the certainty that no one in the financial industry – from the traders to the CEO’s of AIG and Goldman Sachs – will ever face full liability, criminal or otherwise.
Ferguson deftly recaps what is already a well-established fact: That, for decades, Wall Street honchos have had Washington in their back pockets the same way that mafia dons have their local police and judiciary under their thumbs. But rather than use this opportunity to suggest concrete solutions to our financial rot, he devotes “Inside Job” to interviews in which lamenters confirm our fears and defenders maintain their remorselessness as Ferguson berates the latter with hostile rebuttals. That antagonism, incidentally, isn’t really enlightening or constructive. Yet there’s a guilty pleasure in watching these amoral captains of industry caught in the act of defending a system that duped millions of homeowners via predatory lending schemes and defrauded millions more of savings wiped out in the derivatives market.
I’ll be honest. I no more understand the details of derivatives trading, credit default swaps or collateralized debt obligations than before I watched “Inside Job.” Still, credit Ferguson (himself an M.I.T. Ph.D in Political Science and a high-technology and policy consultant) and his writers Chad Beck and Adam Bolt for trying to help me understand: Their film goes exhaustively into the anatomy of Wall Street’s unregulated, patently criminal trade. But try as they and their parade of experts might, the minutiae remain both esoteric and, frankly, tedious. Then again, our collective ignorance on these issues is what insulated Wall Street insiders from the rest of us and allowed them to get away with what they did.
In that sense, “Inside Job” wants to empower its viewers so that we may demand an end to deregulation and a greater sense of accountability. But that’ll happen only insofar as the mercenary capitalists controlling Washington will concede. And that isn’t much, given the feebleness of Obama’s recent financial reforms bill – a point that “Inside Job” acerbically makes. As a documentary, this is a clear-eyed, steadily building prosecution against Wall Street. But, in the end, Ferguson’s film is just a moot trial in which the defendants have already escaped scot-free. What those of us suffering Wall Street rage-fatigue need now is a documentary advocating a blue print for how we may renounce global in favor of local and corporate in favor of community. That way lies less anger, more action.
Directed by: Charles Ferguson
Written by: Chad Beck, Adam Bolt
Cast: Matt Damon (narration)