NYFF 2010: Inside Job

10/04/2010 4:57 PM |


Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job plays tonight at the 48th New York Film Festival, and opens theatrically this Friday (we review the film in the current issue of The L as well).

By the time you watch Charlie Ferguson’s Inside Job, you’ll have had plenty of time to have read the writing on the wall regarding how subprime loans were the root cause of the current recession. But unless you follow exceptional pundits, that doesn’t mean you know who was to blame beyond the banks and some shadowy representatives of whichever of the last four administrations you hate most. Ferguson’s film levels the playing field by implicating everybody specifically, especially the people responsible for regulating bank loans and bank executives that made bad business a billion dollar policy. By the time you reach Inside Job’s final act, names are named and it’s done in such a way that you can feel comfortable feeling incensed, regardless of your political turn signal (left, right, we all got futzed off). Within the mode of recent alarmist docs, Inside Job has just become the new standard-bearer.

Ferguson understands that at this point, we don’t want to tsk-tsk at the men responsible for our economy’s collapse. Now, a Michael Moore figure, with only common sense and moral outrage on his side, won’t do: we want a pointed critique of the system, why it failed and who did it. Thankfully, Ferguson is more than capable of giving his audience what they want: the ability to look specifically at an easily digestible timeline of events and see who was and in many cases still is in whose pockets. Telling it straight, visibly incensed without being vague, Ferguson delivers a wall of information and a sizable gallery of talking heads.

The righteous anger that motivates Ferguson’s damning and thankfully accessible critique is however coupled with an intuitive sense of pacing that transcends Ferguson’s admittedly crude manipulation of his footage (just try not to laugh when Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” plays over the opening credits or when Matt “The Informant!” Damon’s name pops up). There’s no linear ABC logic to the film’s plot beyond a rough scaffold, which makes its narrative a little more cinematic. For example, we’re told that subprime loans were rated an improbably high “AAA” by rating agencies early on, but Ferguson only explains how that happened and who was responsible several scenes later. In that way, Inside Job’s less like a filmed Powerpoint presentation and more like a semi-improvised rant by a keynote speaker armed with scads of well-documented notes but with no set trajectory for his presentation.

The key selling point of Inside Job in that way is probably going to be Ferguson’s ardor, instead of the keen content of his talking points. His naked aggression is best expressed during his taped one-on-one interviews with talking heads, whom he cuts off whenever they try to protect themselves or the decisions made by big businesses, the government or whoever else screwed people out of house and home. He’s out for blood, which leaves no room in his film for anyone other than two kinds of people: the kind that tried to warn the government of an impending crisis and the kind that directly caused one. It’s kind of nice to imagine that the world can be flattened into victims and bullies and Inside Job gives us free license to do just that. This is mostly because we’ve all been victimized on a basic level for decades by corrupt government officials—but also because Ferguson’s very good at making you feel very angry.