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NYFF 2010. Charles Ferguson's "Inside Job"

"Many know about how the 2008 financial crash happened," begins Aaron Cutler in Slant: "Widespread deregulation of investment banks and savings and loan companies, new homeowners with bad credit, and an expanding gap between America's rich and poor as a result. The striking insight the new documentary Inside Job offers is that experts predicted the crash over a decade before it happened, and that, rather than listen, financial heads gave themselves bonuses. Charles Ferguson's film, more than anything, proves a vital piece of journalism."

Kenji Fujishima at the House Next Door: "On the face of it, sure, Inside Job — which comprehensively sums up how various historic, economic, political, and personal forces combined to lead us to the global financial crisis which engulfs much of the world now — might seem too little, too late; what more is Ferguson adding in this film that those who closely follow history, economics, politics, or even just everyday news don't already know? And yet, there's something to be said for a film that offers up not only a lucid, wide-ranging summary of such defining events of our time, but a sense of clear-eyed outrage as to how the global economic system got to such a screwed-up state."

"Ferguson's gift lies in his ability to clarify facts and challenge lies and deceptions with a narrative that seems propelled forward by righteous skepticism," blogs Tom Hall. "His style makes for heady, reasonable and absolutely compelling filmmaking. There is a lot of razzle-dazzle (music, aerial shots, graphics), but each of these elements provide a way into the story, either by underscoring a fact or by emphasizing a sense of time and place.... And you thought The Social Network was the movie for our times."

Profiling Ferguson for the Wall Street Journal, Steve Dollar notices, while watching Inside Job, that, over and again, "as Mr Ferguson quizzes a significant player in the crisis, the subject gives him a very particular look. It conveys a mix of surprise, annoyance and defensiveness, like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Only, in this case, it's a $20 trillion cookie jar. 'I gradually realized that one thing these people were displaying when I started getting tough with them was not just substantive discomfort about the facts, the situation, their position,' said Mr Ferguson, semi-casual in a blazer and running shoes during a recent promotional trip to Los Angeles. 'It was shock that anyone was doing this to them. Shock that anybody was challenging them, had done their homework, had read their papers, had looked at their CVs, had looked at their consulting relationships, and would dare to contradict them.'"

For Time Out New York's Joshua Rothkopf, this is a particular pleasure: "[M]ost satisfyingly, we get to watch the worms — smug economic theorists and corporate-funded academics — squirm in Ferguson's laser-sharp, accusatory interviews."

"Investment banks selling defective securities — even designing securities to be defective, so they could make a profit betting against them?" wonders Trey Graham in a piece for NPR. Ferguson: "If somebody had told me in the fall of 2008 that this had gone on on a huge scale — tens of billions of dollars — I would have said, 'No, that's just too extreme. People don't do that. And if you do do it, you would go to jail.' They did do it, and nobody's gone to jail."

 



For the New York Times, "DealBook caught up with the 55-year-old filmmaker, who in 2008 was nominated for an Oscar for his first documentary, on the Iraq War, called No End in Sight."

Inside Job screens once more on tonight before opening on Friday in New York theaters and in Los Angeles on October 15. Earlier: Cannes roundup.

Updates, 10/6: "Ferguson is a less rabble-rousing filmmaker than Michael Moore, but 20 minutes into his lucid yet stupefying account of the 2008 global economic meltdown — around the time a stroll down memory lane recounts Ronald Reagan's role in facilitating the Savings and Loan debacle of the mid 80s — my vision was clouded by the steam wafting from my ears," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Next up, the quotidian Clinton-era crimes of corporate money-laundering, book-cooking, and pol-bribing. This may have been business as usual, but the 1999 repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act re-stoked the coals of my indignation as savings banks were set free to merge with investment houses, and the wholesale merchandising of speculative derivatives opened the way for the full-scale casino-ization of the American economy. Inside Job makes a familiar tale cogent."

"Ferguson uses innumerable tricks of the slick-doc trade (pop-music montages; gotcha smash cuts; celebrity narration — in this case, Matt Damon)." Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York: "Even the title is a loaded, tragedy-invoking provocation. But the arguments beneath the incensing artifice are clearheaded, and Ferguson doesn't refrain from crossing party lines to show how everyone from Reagan to Obama has enabled the snake-oilers-cum-money-managers."

And David Fear talks with Ferguson for Time Out New York.

Update, 10/7: Viewing. The New York Times has several clips.

Updates, 10/8: Inside Job "is the story of a crime without punishment, of an outrage that has so far largely escaped legal sanction and societal stigma," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "The gist of this movie, which begins in a mood of calm reflection and grows angrier and more incredulous as it goes on, is unmistakably punitive. The density of information and the complexity of the subject matter make Inside Job feel like a classroom lecture at times, but by the end Mr Ferguson has summoned the scourging moral force of a pulpit-shaking sermon. That he delivers it with rigor, restraint and good humor makes his case all the more devastating."

"From an emotional standpoint, it's enormously satisfying, even cathartic to watch Ferguson 'nail' some of the rogues behind the economic crisis with the unseemly zeal of Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report," writes Nathan Rabin at the AV Club, "but journalistically and cinematically, it feels like a self-congratulatory flurry of cheap shots, albeit at richly deserving targets. Yet ultimately, Inside Job is as much crisp, professional journalism as ballsy takedown, and the film's two sides complement rather than detract from each other."

"That this was a catastrophe made inevitable by not just the greed and corruption of the system and those empowering it but a culture of greed, entitlement, and willfully blind eyes that extends beyond the financial sector is a position that's only half drawn," argues Michelle Orange in Movieline. "As much as I love seeing scoundrels pinned to the wall by the facts, and as satisfying as it is to listen to Ferguson, who questions his subjects off camera, eventually lose his assiduous cool, the issue feels more complicated than the impulse to vilify allows it to be."

"It's often argued that proving criminal-fraud cases in finance is difficult," writes Ferguson in Newsweek. "That's true, but when the government gets serious, it finds a way to get the information it needs. Prosecutors could also go after bankers' personal foibles, forcing lower-level personnel to chose between testimony or jail time. That's how investigators have crippled organized crime. Unfortunately, no one has yet shown the same enthusiasm for policing the Street."

And ST VanAirsdale interviews him for Movieline.

Update, 10/11: "Many documentaries are good at drawing attention to an outrage and stirring up our feelings," writes the New Yorker's David Denby. "Ferguson's film certainly does this, but his exposition of complex information is also masterly. Indignation is often the most self-deluding of emotions; this movie has the rare gifts of lucid passion and informed rage.... Ferguson finds a hero in none other than Eliot Spitzer, who prosecuted fraud in the financial industry in 2002. Five years ago, expensive evenings with hookers and drugs were part of the exhilarated Manhattan madness of the investment-banking life. The underlings who procured such services — hiding the costs in phony expense chits — could now be flipped and forced to testify against their bosses, who may be guilty of much more consequential malfeasance. With perfect tact, Spitzer says that he might not be the most appropriate person to suggest such a course for prosecutors. But he suggests it nonetheless."

Coverage of the coverage: NYFF 2010. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow The Daily Notebook on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

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