3 1/2 out of 4 stars
Opening with spectacular aerial and long-distance shots of Iceland and Manhattan, "Inside Job" quickly and firmly establishes itself as one of the most beautifully filmed documentaries ever made. With high-end production values that border on the slick and distracting, every single frame of original footage in it could easily be mistaken as snippets from a premium cable series or the bio-flick of a famous architect.
As gorgeous as it is on the surface, the content of "Inside Job" is bleak, relentlessly depressing and is probably something very few people will want to pay to see. Accomplishing in far less time and with twice the effectiveness of Oliver Stone's recent "Wall Street" sequel, Charles Ferguson's blistering film recounts the events that led up to the 2008 worldwide financial meltdown.
Are you, like most of us, confused by the term "derivatives?" A insider buzz word that gives even the most astute money people reason to pause, Ferguson breaks it down in a manner that, if not one that makes sense, is at least understandable. He also explains the logic -- twisted and vile as it may be -- behind commission-driven stock brokers advising their clients to buy bundles of toxic mortgages while simultaneously betting (with your money) that those same bogus service products will tank.
Although Ferguson was understandably unable to get some of the bigger fish (former and current Treasury Secretaries Henry Paulson and Timothy Geithner, former and current Federal Reserve Chairmen Allen Greenspan and Ben Bernanke) to sit down for interviews, he was able to snare others slightly farther down on the food chain and it makes for some riveting drama.
In a calm but direct manner, an off-screen Ferguson starts with concise softball questions that get his interviewees to relax and drop their guards, and then with the same dispassionate approach goes for their metaphorical jugulars. Some of them get flustered and clam up, but a few hold their ground and proceed to offer up fancy sounding financial doublespeak.
Another thing most of us probably don't know is just how far back the 2008 crash began percolating and how willing every U.S. president since Reagan has been in accommodating whatever beneficial legislation the scads of lobbyists and captains of the financial industry wanted passed. Even the current president -- you know, the guy who rode in on words like "hope" and "change" -- seems content with leaving the status quo undisturbed.
Overflowing with facts, figures, charts, graphs and talking heads who explain all of the details of what went wrong and why, "Inside Job" is a prettier stepsister companion piece to the ongoing glut of Iraq/Afghanistan war documentaries. Accompanied by Matt Damon's sturdy and placid narration, it's thorough, packed with information we could all use to some degree and about as desirable as gangrene.
It's a messenger delivering the same bad news we've already heard ad infinitum. Congratulations, Mr. Ferguson -- you've made a great movie. Now go away. (Sony Classics)