Charles Ferguson's 'Inside Job' documents financial collapse decades in the making

In Inside Job, Charles Ferguson spreads the blame for the financial crash from Wall Street to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Sony Pictures Classics

In Inside Job, Charles Ferguson spreads the blame for the financial crash from Wall Street to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Inside Job (PG-13) (120 min.) — Like a dogged prosecutor, Charles Ferguson lays out an airtight case against the people and policies that created the economic meltdown of 2008 and beyond.

Inside Job is an angry, nonpartisan documentary casting blame from Wall Street to Pennsylvania Avenue for a systematic catastrophe that brewed in plain sight for decades while nothing was done to prevent it.

Ferguson (an Oscar nominee for the Iraq War expose No End in Sight) follows the money like any good investigator, a daunting feat since this is a $20 trillion dollar mystery to unravel. Inside Job is a crash course in mega-economics that doesn't seem professorial, with guilty talking heads squirming at Ferguson's chopping-block questioning, easy-to-digest graphics and Matt Damon's rational narration. Economic Disaster for Dummies, you might say.

An inspired prologue sets up Iceland as a microcosm of key factors leading to the crash: deregulated industries and banking, a lending invention called "derivatives" that led to a housing bubble, and stock prices stoked to finance decadent lifestyles. It's a smart setup for the more complex U.S. collapse, offering viewers who don't watch CNBC a foundation to work with.

Inside Job is divided into five chapters, from "How We Got Here" during the Reagan era to "Where We Are Now" in the Obama years. One of the film's stunning clarities is the professionally incestuous and enduring link between finance, politics and academics, which creates a mountain of conflicted interests. The same names keep popping up — Greenspan, Bernanke, Summers, etc. — often on the other side of the fence than where they were before. Not surprisingly, those are the people who declined Ferguson's interview requests.

Inside Job does feature revealing commentary from an economist who warned the annual Jackson's Hole tycoon summit that their practices were toxic, a Manhattan madam kept on retainer for cocaine-horny financiers, and former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who had the goods on Wall Street and was ignored by federal investigators. The scope of Ferguson's investigation is impressive; his ability to shape the results into fascinating pragmatism even more so.

This isn't a Michael Moore gotcha job, or an Oliver Stone oversimplification. Inside Job contains too much hard evidence to be dismissed as a conspiracy theory, and enough bipartisan blame to dodge the "liberal rant" label. It is a profoundly important film to see, and when was the last time any movie was that? (BayWalk 20; Woodlands Square 20; Citrus Park 20). A

Steve Persall, Times film critic

Charles Ferguson's 'Inside Job' documents financial collapse decades in the making 11/10/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 3:30am]

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