The causes of the current global economic crisis are incredibly confusing to anyone without advanced degrees in economics or intimate knowledge of business and finance (and even to those with expertise.) It is little surprise, then, that the crisis continues to persist as so few have the expertise to question those responsible for it — the same people who caused the meltdown continue to advocate for policies that perpetuate it. Inside Job, written and directed by Charles Ferguson, attempts to explain the causes of the crisis and force confessions from some of those who created it. But selling a documentary on such a confusing (and in some ways boring) subject is no easy task. So Ferguson enlists Matt Damon to narrate, and uses editing and music more akin to action or thriller films to enhance and dramatize the story.
The story begins with Iceland, a country where it is explained the economy was stable until politicians decided to allow deregulation of the banking sector, allowing the three small national banks to borrow unprecedented amounts of money, leading to bankruptcy and economic collapse. This leads to the credits, accompanied appropriately by the Peter Gabriel song ‘Big Time’, swipe editing shots of financial towers around the world, and clips of the interviews that will follow with the various people who both support and denounce the bankers, investors, and businesspeople whose quite blatant rip-off of the average American citizen lead to the recession.
Certainly, economics is not sexy (though try telling that to Wall Street types who, according to many, spent small company fortunes on the services of prostitutes and drugs.) Through the use of feature film generic technics (loud booms to signify an important point, extreme close-ups of the financial ‘criminals’, and graphic images of newspaper articles,) though, Ferguson is attempting to make a documentary that will appeal to and be understood by the largest swath of filmgoer. Using graphs and charts, the film attempts to explain in basic terms the intricacies of subprime mortgages, CDCs, lending strategies, and the insane profit margins of companies such as Merrill Lynch and J.D. Power. For the most part, this strategy works, though I admit I was often lost trying to understand. But perhaps that is part of Ferguson’s point. The economic system is too confusing, it is based on money that does not exist, and this confusion makes it impossible to effectively manage. Ferguson makes no attempt to be impartial, and certainly raises the ire of a few of his interviewees (to the point of making one tell him to turn off the camera and another to tell him he has three minutes to end the regrettable interview.) The end of the film is quite openly dedicated to the ‘American Dream’, but Ferguson seems to have proved that this dream is a myth.