Directed by Leslie Cockburn
Unlike other recent, more successful alarmist documentaries, American Casino has the benefit of having a subject that’s on almost everybody’s minds in some way or another: the sub-prime loan housing crisis and the recession. You might think, then, that director Leslie Cockburn and husband and co-writer Andrew Cockburn needn’t work as hard as, say, a film about dolphin killing or quality control in the food industry to elucidate why we’re going — and in many cases, already gone — to hell in a handbasket.
You’d be wrong, of course, and American Casino proves it, with its micro-scale worldview and disparate talking heads creating an ineffectual yellow-journalism stew of gimme statements, unmoving testimonials and impenetrable jargon.
In its first 30 minutes, American Casino sets up how the recession came to be through talking heads that fall into one of two camps: the kind that deal with homeowners regularly and the kind that do not. The former camp has nothing to report that an intelligent viewer shouldn’t be able to figure out: the recession is a result of banks’ unscrupulous lust for profit and home-owners not understanding what they were getting into until it was too late. Oh, and minorities were hit hardest because they were actively targeted by banks. Go figure. Conversely, the latter camp can barely hold a conversation without referring to arcane figures on a spreadsheet. America, this is your economic microcosm.
After this plodding beginning, the film then focuses on victims of foreclosure, but their view of the recession is no more clear-headed or enlightening. Little time is spent explaining why former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan’s policies are cursorily held responsible at the film's beginning, or examining how other officials went along, or didn’t, with his “laissez faire” views. Instead, the Cockburns just lay out pat observations that beg an unfortunate comparison to a later scene in American Casino where a surveyor “guesstimates” the total number of larvae infesting a stagnate, ramen-colored pool. It’s an icky sight but hardly eye-opening.
Opens September 2 at Film Forum