TIFF 2010. Alex Gibney's "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer"

David Hudson

"Prolific documentarian Alex Gibney's latest take on power and its abuse is an engrossing look at the story of Eliot Spitzer, the once high-flying US politician whose rise and fall involved Wall Street barons and top dollar New York prostitutes," writes John Hazelton for Screen. "It's an intriguing story grippingly told, though the film doesn't quite have the force or universality of earlier Gibney documentaries like Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Oscar-winner Taxi to the Dark Side."

"There's something unusually fitting about the way Client 9 will advertise itself on the promise of Eliot Spitzer showing some recalcitrance or regret in his first major interview since resigning as the Governor of New York when in fact that's not what Alex Gibney's documentary is really about," writes Stephen Saito for IFC.com. "Longtime supporters of Spitzer will likely know this in advance, having understood long ago that the same intellectualism that powered his crusade as a state attorney general to bring transparency to Wall Street would also render him nearly emotionless when trying to rationalize something personal. As Gibney tries to pry in Client 9, you'll hear Spitzer toss off comparisons to Icarus and boilerplate contrition, but what's far more telling is how the ex-governor can barely suppress a smile when talking about bringing down former AIG chairman Hank Greenberg or facing off with disgraced New York politician Joe Bruno."

The doc "doesn't excuse his indiscretions (or hypocrisy), but it does lay out a convincing case that Spitzer was kneecapped by the powerful Wall Street titans and Republican stalwarts he'd battled throughout his career in public service," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "The targeting of Spitzer is viewed as an egregious overreach at best, and a pernicious conspiracy at worst."

"The prolific Gibney (whose output this year will include Casino Jack and the United States of Money, Freakonomics and My Trip to Al Qaeda) doesn't give Spitzer a free ride," agrees John Anderson in Variety. "For all the information here, Gibney is unusual among investigative documentarians in that he never forgets he's making cinema. The shooting of interviews via multiple cameras by DP Maryse Alberti, particularly when Gibney is grilling the penitent Spitzer, is effective and striking. The way the film accessorizes the talking-head format with visual asides (a grinning gargoyle on a downtown building, a Chinatown fishmonger beheading a sea bass) make metaphorical use both of New York and of the romantic/absurdist/Sophoclean nature of Spitzer's story — which, as Gibney no doubt knew before a frame was shot, was never going to be a simple Clintonian saga about a Type A politician having a zipper crisis."

"The film is reminiscent of Marina Zenovich's Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, in which a documentarian takes a fresh look at what seems like an overly familiar news story only to surprise you with details and backstories that eluded reporters of the time," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "If nothing else, the film, which clearly is sympathetic toward its protagonist, might quicken the ongoing rehabilitation of a political figure who, in retrospect, had astonishingly prescient notions about reforming America's largest financial institutions."

Also in THR, Gregg Kilday interviews Gibney.

Updates: Viewing (2'36"). Mekado Murphy talks with Gibney for the New York Times.

Michael Hogan for Vanity Fair: "I'm not generally a fan of conspiracy theories, but it strikes me as entirely thinkable that Spitzer's sworn enemies, who talk openly about how much they can't stand Spitzer, might have taken more than a passive interest in exposing his hypocrisy. Gibney never produces a smoking gun, but there are enough blunt objects coated with palm sweat to paint a rather suggestive picture."

Update, 9/16: "Client 9 is edifying, fascinating, and in the end, more than a little heartbreaking," writes Stephanie Zackarek for Movieline. "As a public figure, Eliot Spitzer is a stiff, brainy, unsexy guy. And like the rest of us mere mortals, he probably wishes to be a very different self in his most private moments."

Update, 9/18: Anne Thompson talks with Gibney.

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