Thursday, March 24, 2011

Review: Inside Job (2010)

It seems that a topic for many Documentaries made in 2010 were man-made disasters, from Gasland to The Big Uneasy ; a common theme seemed to be the incompetence and greed of humans. (Particularly US humans)
The Oscar winning Inside Job is no exception, a chronicle of the global banking crisis of 2007-2008. Starting it's tale in Iceland and then moving to Wall St and Washington DC, "Inside Job" documents the events preceding, during and immediately after the crash of 2008. It includes a great many interviews with important players in the saga, as well as many non interviews by people who refuse to comment. (Represented by title cards advising that the person they are talking about declined to be interviewed by the documentary makers.)
Like many modern documentaries the film is an essay, beginning with it's premise and supporting that premise to a conclusion. To this end the film is very successful, it manages to break down the normally complex world of the financial and legislative regulation into bite sized chunks for the audience and tells a tale that really does need to be told. It is coupled with a great amount of archived footage, beautiful visuals of it's main locations and sharply edited interviews. (I am predicting a DVD set with loads of extra interview footage, as many seem cut very tightly for cinematic effect)
For me this film was largely preaching to the choir, I followed the events of 2008 and since quite closely and was actually amazed by my pre-knowledge of some of the film's territory. (I know roughly how a credit default swap worked for example, what leverage was etc) Even without this knowledge it is both an entertaining film, pacy and effective.
I did feel it wasted a bit of time on an Ad-Hominem against executives and their nocturnal habits; devoting a lengthy block to Wall street's love of strip clubs, cocaine and prostitutes. While the little factoid about one madam in particular working as a cog to write off these extravagances as buisness expenses was I feel relevant, the short exploration of the pathology of the Wall street mindset was shallow and a little easy for my taste. (I think you can show how bad this culture is without going for the "these people are basically sociopaths" angle, that imho absolves them of some responsibility for their actions due to mental illness, rather than as products of a twisted capitalist environment) Another criticism, actually leveled by the friend I watched the film with who is in Banking and Economics, is that the film conflates Economics and Commerce as Academic fields when in fact they are quite separate. Most Business schools focus on Commerce while Economics tends to be a more abstract field and not as tied in with the world of business.

Minor quibbles aside, this is a worth while watch. By the looks this year's Academy batch of documentaries are all very high quality (as is the Big Uneasy which was not nominated) and I have slipped Gasland, The Big Uneasy, Exit through the gift shop and Wasteland on my must watch list..