By Don Simpson | February 5, 2011
Director: Charles Ferguson
Writer(s): Chad Beck, Adam Bolt
Starring: Matt Damon, William Ackman, Daniel Alpert
I like political documentaries, especially when they are in line with my personal beliefs. And as a political statement, I like Inside Job a lot. It does not hold any punches and it tells the story of the 2008 financial collapse from a perspective very similar to my own beliefs. I suspect other viewers from similar political and economic persuasions will probably enjoy Inside Job too. In other words, this new documentary by Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight) is essentially just preaching to the choir as far as I am concerned.
Personally, I rate documentaries according to their effectiveness in making a convincing argument to people outside of the choir. Unfortunately, Inside Job is a bit too bitter and jaded to convince “the opposition” of anything. Inside Job is all about pointing fingers and attributing blame — and don’t get me wrong, I am the first to agree with every accusation this documentary makes — but that is not the way to convince others.
Ferguson’s biggest foul is in inviting “the bad guys” (it is quite obvious from the minute any interviewee appears onscreen whether Ferguson believes they are good or bad) to be interviewed and then turning around and editing their responses into nasty one or two line sound bites. This editing technique gives the quotes an off-putting allusion that they might be taken out of context. Sure, it is entertaining for those of us who think “the bad guy” interviewees are truly the devils incarnate, but think about how Republicans will react to seeing their heroes of free market Capitalism getting tarred and feathered by Ferguson. Well, I will tell you how they will react. They will write off Inside Job as just another product of liberal Hollywood propaganda — a statement that would be difficult to deny — and not accept any of the facts or theories merely out of political principal.
But no matter how much filth and bile they want to spew, “the bad guys” really should be given equal time and treatment to “the good guys.” Instead Ferguson takes an approach similar to Michael Moore: make fun of “the bad guys” and sell everything “the good guys” say as facts. Inside Job would have been much more interesting to me if Ferguson was able to have a relatively sane and intelligent conversation with “the bad guys.” They probably do not deserve our respect, but let’s give it to them anyway. Chances are they will still make fools of themselves, but let us know the complete context of their idiocracy. Essentially, I believe that it is not impossible to be fair and balanced, yet still make your own argument convincing.
So just how educational or convincing will Inside Job be to people who do not share Ferguson’s beliefs? When it comes down to it, is that not who needs to be persuaded before any real financial reform will occur in this country? Even if every person who voted for Obama became vocal in their support for comprehensive financial reform, that does not mean financial reform is going to occur, especially now that the party of deregulation (the people who got us into this whole mess) has control of the U.S. House of Representatives (and close to equal representation in the U.S. Senate). Disappointingly, Ferguson provides us with no advice regarding how to change things. He gives us plenty of evidence that the financial industry is no less corrupt than it was before the 2008 collapse, but Inside Job basically leaves us with the belief that there is nothing we as individuals can do.
OK, I get it. Our country is run by Wall Street. I am not happy about that at all. I want to do something about it. What can I do about it? This current state of affairs is far beyond making phone calls to representatives and senators in Washington, it is far beyond protesting on the streets, it is even far beyond the election of a president who promised us change.
How do we remove Wall Street’s hands from the pockets of our government — and visa versa? How do we remove the incredibly biased people who currently hold the government positions with the most power in terms of financial markets? And once they are gone, who should be in charge of financial regulation and reform?
In order for it to work, deregulation requires a shitload of honesty and trust, while Capitalism rewards deception and greed. I’m sorry, but you cannot expect both economic philosophies to work together. I would be willing to accept deregulation if the businesses being deregulated could be trusted. I just do not foresee that being a viable solution in the near future. Right now, I believe we desperately need checks and balances to keep our country’s (and world’s) economy from destroying itself.
Is Inside Job worthy of the Best Documentary Oscar? Not in my opinion. Is it entertaining, engaging and enraging? Yes, very much so. Will more than 25% of the U.S. population agree with it? Probably not. Will it convince anyone who is currently in favor of deregulation to switch sides? No way Jose. OK, then, will it persuade anyone who is currently undecided? Possibly, but I would argue that it’s tone might be too off-putting to be convincing.
Then again, who am I to judge? I was sitting in the choir long before Inside Job began to play. I can only make guesses (and rely on friends’ reactions) when determining whether or not Inside Job will be convincing enough to anyone sitting elsewhere in the theater.