Inside Job (2010) dir. Charles Ferguson
By Alan Bacchus
Though I work in the film industry and write this film blog, I actually have a degree in economics. From my very first econ course back in school we were aware of the concept of ‘deadweight loss’. This is a calculation of profit loss due to market inefficiency, which in real world terms means price controls and any other regulated markets in the economy. This was ingrained in our minds from high school all the way up to university.
This is also the heart of the problem with the collapse of the US (and thus, global) financial markets, which Charles Ferguson makes so clear in his incendiary, comprehensive and really, the last word, on this monumental financial disaster of recent years.
There’s a palpable sense of anger from Ferguson, a filmmaker, who must have poured though reams and reams of unintelligible figures, pages of dry research papers and really heavy university textbooks in order to understand what happened. As he questions and confronts some of the smartest and craftiest men in the world, we can hear Ferguson in the background admirably go toe to toe. And now his work is our benefit, and worth much much more than the $13.00 or less it will cost to see this movie.
I’ve seen many films and journalism news segments which attempted to explain the incredibly complex chain of events which caused the collapse, from 60 Minutes to Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story nobody seemed to get it straight. And no one’s really told the whole story. Remarkably Ferguson does this in spades.
His approach reminds me of Spike Lee’s comprehensive and final word on the Katrina disaster When the Levees Broke. Inside Job has the same desperate need and desire to find the truth and expose one of the world’s worst acts of conspiracy and criminality.
Ferguson applies a distinct cinematic approach to the film. It’s evident in the opening scenes. First a prologue telling the story of Iceland’s financial collapse, which occurred remotely on its own before the US collapse, a kind of warning sign not unlike the Easter Island parable to today’s current environmental crisis. Then there’s a lengthy credit sequence featuring freeze frames and soundbites of the numerous executives, government wonks, professors etc who will appear in the film.
This background and tonal build up is key to making sense of what’s to come.
As narrated by Matt Damon, Ferguson systematically breaks down all the details of exactly what the fuck happened. All the way back to the 1930’s through the prosperity in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s to the series of collapses in the 80’s and 90’s which led to that fateful week of Sept 2008 when everything went bankrupt.
Despite Ferguson’s careful use of graphics and charts to help make clear, what the hell credit default swaps, or CDOs etc. There’s just so much information we have to process, it’s difficult to keep up even for an economics grad. But I was also reminded of Oliver Stone’s JFK, where the overkill of information actually helped prove his point of the complexity of government, business and wealth which helped effect the assassination of JFK.
We’re not meant to understand every detail in Inside Job, and it’s all there for those attentive and smart enough to understand it on the first go. But he never loses sight of the big picture, which isn‘t lost on the less-economically inclined. The recurring theme is simply - greed - the need for the individuals on Wall Street and Washington to grab that piece of deadweight loss and put it into their own pockets.
Many of the key players refuse to give interviews, all of which are noted as text in the film. Their silence speaks volumes though, which is how they managed to get away with it all. The villains he does manage to interview are typically smarmy and evasive, which furthers the frustration of the entire affair. These guys are so smart there’s actually little criminal activity going during this period. Which is the most frightening aspect, is that the collapse was all legal, which make the title of this film absolutely perfect Inside Job. This is fantastic film.