Inside Job

Written by admin on . Posted in Arts & Film, Film.


By Armond White

For those who missed that unexpected satirical graphics lecture on the current recession that capped Adam McKay’s The Other Guys, Inside Job is the next best thing. With entertaining clarity, writer-director Charles Ferguson explains what caused the recession that began September 15, 2008. Not a comic like McKay, Ferguson seriously chronicles the twisty financial dealings and recondite legislative details of deregulation that started back in the Reagan administration and eventually let the banks go wild with subprime loans and kickback benefits. He traces more recent government history that led to the current economic meltdown, but then Ferguson gets caught up in satisfying the “Gotcha!” urge that ruins most recent docs—like his 2008 anti-Bush, Iraq War screed No End in Sight.

Spitzer had his own inside job.

This time, as Ferguson comes close to Gotcha—uncovering the family tree of government appointments and greedy corporate privilege that led to lost jobs, foreclosed homes and banking bailouts—he backs down. He not only drops his entertaining intelligibility, he loses the deeper subject that would give this documentary power.

It isn’t enough that Inside Job ends on a muckraking note—“Some things are worth fighting for”—which calls for what? Revolution? Putsch? Anarchy? Narrator Matt Damon mouths Ferguson’s glib sentiments, appealing to populist anger (rubber-stamped by an ad-blurb promising the film “will get you boiling mad”). Simplifying the complex of establishment corruption prevents Ferguson from being the Patrick Henry of the digital age. His true interest is subtler than pamphleteering: He likes examining the structure of America’s power elite like Lewis Lapham’s The American Ruling Class.

No End in Sight disappointed because Ferguson settled for Bush-bashing as an end-all, blame-all explanation and absolved the workings of the government bureaucracy (whistle-blowers) he had discovered. Inside Job, as its title suggests, is more clear-headed about white-collar guilt, perhaps because financial misdeeds are so common—so implicitly understood—that Ferguson doesn’t immediately go into high-dudgeon. Instead, he gets right to the source of political and managerial arrogance. He begins with the folly of politicians, using the example of Iceland privatizing its own banks then destroying its economy. It is both a warning and an allegory. After all, what really offends Ferguson and drives his filmmaking is officialdom: the workings of egotistical authority from the Ivy League to Wall Street to Washington, D.C.

This linkage is fascinating beyond the recession itself (John Kirby and Lapham got at it definitively in the little-seen The American Ruling Class). Ferguson might deal with it exclusively some day, given that Inside Job shows improvement, avoiding No End in Sight’s partisanship. The financial mismanagement shared by Democrat and Republican administrations over the past three decades suggests Ferguson’s viewpoint is growing, getting closer to what most recent docs lack: understanding.

Inside Job provides financial summaries and information that most mainstream newsmedia haven’t. Still, the despair and anger and suspicion it arouses needs a place to go if this is going to be better than McKay’s lark or a feel-righteous Daily Show episode. Ferguson’s explication requires even greater feeling than the sarcasm of Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” that opens the film; it requires art such as Oliver Stone provided in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, where stock market megalomania was put in human, rather than tabloid, terms. Critics disparaged Stone’s thrilling exposé because it didn’t provide them with easy castigation. (They always expect Stone to be a less conscientious, imaginative and skillful director than he turns out to be.) Money Never Sleeps understands the characteristics of bureaucracy that Ferguson glosses in Inside Job, yet struggles to comprehend.

Ferguson’s method (he’s a political science doctorate from M.I.T. and Brookings Institute fellow) is to follow the career paths of bureaucrats and government appointees like Charles Keating, Henry Paulson, Alan Greenspan, Larry Summers, Ben Bernanke and the lofty fiats of Reagan, Clinton, Bush and, briefly, Obama. He outlines the culprits who de-regulated the banks long before Bush took office and currently have come back to justify their earlier mistakes. This clarity opposes the fat cats’ sleight-of-highhandedness—as when quoting Greenspan’s contemptuous evasion, “If you had a PhD in mathematics, you couldn’t understand whether de-regulation was good for you.”

Inside Job becomes rousing when Ferguson gets a bureaucrat in his crosshairs, like disingenuous lobbyist Scott Talbot, fumbling Fred Mishkin, hard-nosed David McCormick or short-tempered academic-factotum Glenn Hubbard, who dares him, “Take your best shot.” Ferguson counters them with a series of exclamations: “For me that’s clearly not true!” “You must be joking!” “You can’t be serious!” Ferguson’s querulous tone departs from the film’s cool, five-part structure because he can’t hide his ire which comes from his distaste (same as No End in Sight) for the temperament of these prevaricating pols—such as economist and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, shown reclining with a glass of scotch in his hand. And the best part of Inside Job tracks these guys to their lairs.

“Does Columbia Business School have a conflict-of-interest problem?” Ferguson asks, hunting down the strange, suspicious connection between academic sponsorship and government promotion. He comes close to revealing how academic elitism and privilege facilitates Wall Street’s personal interests and the government’s collusion. When Ferguson details the history of Treasury Secretary and Federal Reserve positions, he’s on fascinating, dangerous ground—meekly exposing Obama’s elitist agenda. But this calls for something more than a Gotcha movie.

Consider that Inside Job’s one clear villain, Larry Summers (recent Obama Cabinet resignee, past Harvard University president and former Department of Treasury Secretary from 1999 to 2001) is also a hero in The Social Network. The only way to escape this hall of mirrors is for Ferguson to abandon Michael Moore-style denunciation and get closer to the human propensity for power and self-interest. If Inside Job were a great movie it would rebuke the asinine class/ethnic games of The Social Network, in which Summers is used to humiliate the CGI Winklevoss Twins. Ferguson hasn’t gotten there yet. His poli-sci fascination still needs to attain Oliver Stone’s insight or even the depth that Marcel Ophüls brought to his 1970s documentaries, where humanity was more important than political stance. If Ferguson means to surpass the purely topical snark of The Other Guys, he needs to realize this: Compassion can also be a clarifying tool.
_
Inside Job
Directed by Charles Ferguson
Runtime: 108 min.

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Inside Job

Written by Armond White on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.


INSIDE JOB

Directed by Charles Ferguson

Runtime: 108 min.

FOR THOSE WHO missed that unexpected satirical graphics lecture on the
current recession that capped Adam McKay’s The Other Guys, Inside Job
is the next best thing. With entertaining clarity, writer-director
Charles Ferguson explains what caused the recession that began
September 15, 2008. Not a comic like McKay, Ferguson seriously
chronicles the twisty financial dealings and recondite legislative
details of deregulation that started back in the Reagan administration
and eventually let the banks go wild with subprime loans and kickback
benefits. He traces more recent government history that led to the
current economic meltdown, but then Ferguson gets caught up in
satisfying the “Gotcha!” urge that ruins most recent docs—like his 2008
anti-Bush, Iraq War screed No End in Sight.

This
time, as Ferguson comes close to Gotcha—uncovering the family tree of
government appointments and greedy corporate privilege that led to lost
jobs, foreclosed homes and banking bailouts—he backs down. He not only
drops his entertaining intelligibility, he loses the deeper subject
that would give this documentary power.

It isn’t enough that Inside Job ends
on a muckraking note— “Some things are worth fighting for”—which calls
for what? Revolution? Putsch? Anarchy? Narrator Matt Damon mouths
Ferguson’s glib sentiments, appealing to populist anger (rubber-stamped
by an ad-blurb promising the film “will get you boiling mad”).
Simplifying the complex of establishment corruption prevents Ferguson
from being the Patrick Henry of the digital age. His true interest is
subtler than pamphleteering: He likes examining the structure of
America’s power elite like Lewis Lapham’s The American Ruling Class.

No End in Sight disappointed
because Ferguson settled for Bush-bashing as an end-all, blame-all
explanation and absolved the workings of the government bureaucracy
(whistle-blowers) he had discovered. Inside Job, as its title
suggests, is more clear-headed about whitecollar guilt, perhaps because
financial misdeeds are so common—so implicitly understood—that Ferguson
doesn’t immediately go into high-dudgeon. Instead, he gets right to the
source of political and managerial arrogance. He begins with the folly
of politicians, using the example of Iceland privatizing its own banks
then destroying its economy. It is both a warning and an allegory. After
all, what really offends Ferguson and drives his filmmaking is
officialdom: the workings of egotistical authority from the Ivy League
to Wall Street to Washington, D.C.

This
linkage is fascinating beyond the recession itself (John Kirby and
Lapham got at it definitively in the little-seen The American Ruling
Class). Ferguson might deal with it exclusively some day, given that
Inside Job shows improvement, avoiding No End in Sight’s partisanship.
The financial mismanagement shared by Democrat and Republican
administrations over the past three decades suggests Ferguson’s
viewpoint is growing, getting closer to what most recent docs lack:
understanding.

Inside
Job provides financial summaries and information that most mainstream
newsmedia haven’t. Still, the despair and anger and suspicion it
arouses needs a place to go if this is going to be better than McKay’s
lark or a feelrighteous Daily Show episode. Ferguson’s explication
requires even greater feeling than the sarcasm of Peter Gabriel’s “Big
Time” that opens the film; it requires art such as Oliver Stone
provided in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, where stock market
megalomania was put in human, rather than tabloid, terms. Critics
disparaged Stone’s thrilling exposé because it didn’t provide them with
easy castigation. (They always expect Stone to be a less conscientious,
imaginative and skillful director than he turns out to be.) Money Never
Sleeps understands the characteristics of bureaucracy that Ferguson
glosses in Inside Job, yet struggles to comprehend.

Ferguson’s
method (he’s a political science doctorate from M.I.T. and Brookings
Institute fellow) is to follow the career paths of bureaucrats and
government appointees like Charles Keating, Henry Paulson, Alan
Greenspan, Larry Summers, Ben Bernanke and the lofty fiats of Reagan,
Clinton, Bush and, briefly, Obama. He outlines the culprits who
de-regulated the banks long before Bush took office and currently have
come back to justify their earlier mistakes. This clarity opposes the
fat cats’ sleightof-highhandedness—as when quoting Greenspan’s
contemptuous evasion, “If you had a PhD in mathematics, you couldn’t
understand whether de-regulation was good for you.”

Inside Job becomes
rousing when Ferguson gets a bureaucrat in his crosshairs, like
disingenuous lobbyist Scott Talbot, fumbling Fred Mishkin, hard-nosed
David McCormick or shorttempered academic-factotum Glenn Hubbard, who
dares him, “Take your best shot.” Ferguson counters them with a series
of exclamations: “For me that’s clearly not true!” “You must be joking!”
“You can’t be serious!” Ferguson’s querulous tone departs from the
film’s cool, five-part structure because he can’t hide his ire which
comes from his distaste (same as No End in Sight) for the
temperament of these prevaricating pols— such as economist and former
Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, shown reclining with a glass of
scotch in his hand. And the best part of Inside Job tracks these guys to their lairs.

“Does
Columbia Business School have a conflict-of-interest problem?” Ferguson
asks, hunting down the strange, suspicious connection between academic
sponsorship and government promotion. He comes close to revealing how
academic elitism and privilege facilitates Wall Street’s personal
interests and the government’s collusion. When Ferguson details the history of Treasury
Secretary and Federal Reserve positions, he’s on fascinating, dangerous
ground—meekly exposing Obama’s elitist agenda. But this calls for
something more than a Gotcha movie.

Consider
that Inside Job’s one clear villain, Larry Summers (recent Obama
Cabinet resignee, past Harvard University president and former
Department of Treasury Secretary from 1999 to 2001) is also a hero in
The Social Network. The only way to escape this hall of mirrors is for
Ferguson to abandon Michael Moore-style denunciation and get closer to
the human propensity for power and self-interest. If Inside Job were a
great movie it would rebuke the asinine class/ethnic games of The
Social Network, in which Summers is used to humiliate the CGI
Winklevoss Twins. Ferguson hasn’t gotten there yet. His poli-sci
fascination still needs to attain Oliver Stone’s insight or even the
depth that Marcel Ophuls brought to his 1970s documentaries, where
humanity was more important than political stance. If Ferguson means to
surpass the purely topical snark of The Other Guys, he needs to realize
this: Compassion can also be a clarifying tool.

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