‘Inside Job’ goes for the throat

March 10, 2011

I knew there was a reason I let my wife handle the mortgage. Sure, she’s a financial wizard, but my real fear is that I will become so overwhelmed and frustrated with just where our monthly payments go that I will retreat into an underground bunker, nightly rocking myself to sleep, hands clenched in sweaty fists.

And it’s films like “Inside Job” that only fuel that paranoia and frustration.
That’s not a knock against the film; in fact, it’s a resounding endorsement, for it’s been quite a while since a film has caused my blood to reach such a prolonged period of bubbling.

For those who followed the Oscars, they may have heard of “Inside Job” for the first time, since its theatrical release was but a blurry streak. But Tuesday, March 8, you will not have an excuse to miss this year’s Best Documentary Oscar winner, for that is when “Inside Job” is slated to be released on DVD. And if you think a documentary on the current financial crisis might be as fun as watching someone balance a checkbook, time to think again.

Director Charles Ferguson was able to detail the quagmire of events leading to the Iraq War in 2007 with “No End in Sight.” With surgical precision, he was able to present facts, figures, opinions and interviews that were accessible, riveting and infuriating.

He applies the same technique here.

Matt Damon is our measured, reasonable voice for the flood of financial information that Ferguson reworks into digestible nuggets of information. It may at first appear daunting, but hang with it, as the filmmakers present things in terms that those with even the most nebulous knowledge of the stock market will quickly comprehend.

We are first shown Iceland, in which we witness the aftermath of dramatic financial deregulation and its devastating impact on its people. Flashback to New York’s Wall Street of a few decades ago where a similar financial brew is percolating. We see politicians of all stripes greedily clamoring to get a piece of the mortgage loan system that is little more than an elaborate shell game.

And when the game concluded with the burst of the housing bubble, we spend some time with the average Americans who lost. Again, the film ramps up, now concerned with finding accountability. And there is ample supply. From presidents (the sitting one included) on down through government, bankers and even educators at top colleges encouraging students to emulate this financially destructive behavior, there’s a lot of blame to go ‘round.
“Inside Job” goes for the throat, but in a methodical fashion. This also yields some fascinating interviews where you can almost hear the subjects say to themselves, “Oh, crap! I might have just said too much.”

And even though it paints some rather dark days ahead, not all hope is lost. “Inside Job” will hopefully be used in future classrooms and campuses (particularly those from the colleges housing the crooked professors) as a learning tool to prevent further economic decline. It’s a sharp, sweeping indictment on just how we’ve landed in this mess, and should provoke all watching to do something to help avoid a further slide.