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Inside Job (Blu-ray Review)

21 Mar, 2011 By: Mike Clark

Sony Pictures
Box Office $4.2 million
$28.95 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some drug and sex-related material.
Narrated by Matt Damon.

Charles Ferguson’s recent Oscar winner took the award I thought he should have had as well for 2007’s Iraq war slammer No End in Sight, though the latter was beaten by the brilliant and not thematically dissimilar Taxi to the Dark Side, whose director was Sight executive producer Alex Gibney. Both filmmakers reliably get great interviewee access and are exceptionally skilled at driving their points home. But another reason their documentaries have the visceral power they do has to do with major production values. They look as handsome as mainstream Hollywood features — and when, in this case, Ferguson knew he wanted to have a specific Peter Gabriel song in the opening credits, he and co-producer Audrey Marrs were willing to spend 5% of the picture’s budget in what became a cliffhanger to clear the rights.

All this, of course, is tangential to Job’s narrative power in chronicling the 2008 global meltdown of the economy and the seeds of the mess we’re still in today. As much as any movie can, it crystallizes difficult subjects — brain pulverizers like credit default swaps and CDOs — in a way lay folk can comprehend (the graphic folks do a sterling job). And it’s a movie a lot of documentary watchers were waiting for from the time of Roger Ebert’s through-the-roof rave from the Cannes Film Festival not quite six months before its release. I’ll never figure out how many or even some thought that Exit Through the Gift Shop would have been an even more deserving Oscar winner because (like The Social Network), Job is among the most timely and kinetic screen achievements of its time and will still mesmerize 50 years from now.

Next to Job, my favorite documentary last year (and one of my top four of any kind) was Gibney’s Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, which is a fabulous companion piece because Spitzer is so good in Ferguson’s film (and as part of the latter’s copious DVD/Blu-ray extras). Whatever his personal shortcomings, Spitzer was the one of the few at least trying to take his best vintage Reggie Jackson swing somewhere around the knees of wheelers, dealers, corrupt financial service regulators, militant peddlers of sub-prime mortgages and (this one of Job’s most potent points) academics who were walking conflicts of interest.

Speaking of the extras here, they’re almost like getting a secondary extra movie, and the Blu-ray has something like an hour of extra material that the standard DVD doesn’t have. One of these BD segments is a significant highlight: a low-key, blow-by-blow account of the afternoon Lehman Brothers started to melt, delivered by Lehman’s premier bankruptcy attorney Harvey Miller. (He was also the go-to guy during General Motors’ restructuring — a very sharp elder statesman with a wry sense of humor and eye for detail.)

As we can hear from his outstanding commentary with producer Marrs (a good foil), Ferguson is soft-spoken himself, which makes his relentlessly probing questions on screen to occasionally discomforted subjects very effective. It’s not exactly a revelation that the person who made No End in Sight would be of a certain political stripe, yet Ferguson is hard (during the commentary) on the Obama Administration and notes that he thinks one former member of the Bush Treasury Department who comes off fairly badly in the film is “basically a good person.”

In terms of really coming off badly, the two champs here are Columbia University economists R. Glenn Hubbard (former chief economic advisor to Bush II and now business school dean) and Frederic Mishkin (a former Board of Governor of the Reserve System), both of whom have made a lot of green cheerleading for suspect teams (Mishkin got more than a hundred grand for a puff piece on Iceland’s economic system before it collapsed). Hubbard is memorably contentious on camera, Mishkin evokes “what, me worry?” every time he opens his mouth, and one wonders (as the filmmaker says he’s been asked many times) if the subjects’ worst moments in the interviews were purposefully the ones that were chosen. Ferguson says on the contrary: people who saw a longer cut containing footage he terms “shocking” urged him to excise it because, in a boomerang effect, it made these interviewees objects of sympathy on a human level — so badly did they come off. I can believe this because on some sort of perverse level, I did feel sorry for Mishkin. It’s hard not to look at the ground whenever he’s on screen.

The Matt Damon narration is just right, and Ferguson gives him a lot of credit for having studied transcripts of the interviews and helped structure parts of the film that were giving the director some trouble. Ferguson also makes the point, as he did on the Oscarcast, that not a single individual has gone to jail for this fiasco — even though it has been likened to a bank robbery where the stick-up artist was the bank president.

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