The recent financial meltdown is a difficult thing for the average person to wrap his or her head around, despite the fact that its consequences can be so easily seen and felt. In 2008 it seemed like America unexpectedly plunged from an age of prosperity into a dark age of record unemployment, home foreclosures, and depleted retirement savings. Just by following the news and reading the headlines most of us were able to identify the villains; it was the irresponsible actions of wall street and the central banks that led to the devastating financial crisis and current global recession. But, knowing where the blame lies doesn’t make it any easier to understand exactly what happened and how it happened. Luckily, Charles Ferguson’s academy award-winning documentary Inside Job poignantly explains in simple terms how the world was brought to its knees by the greed and corruption of the US’s financial industry.
Inside Job covers the entire history of American financial ups and downs, from the great recession, to the economic boom in the late 80s and early 90s, to the internet bubble burst, to its insane sky-rocket from 2004-2007, and finally through to the crash in late 2008. When the market crashed during the great recession, the government placed heavy regulations on banks limiting aspects of their operations including how much they could borrow and how much risk they could take in their investments. Over time, as the economy grew and banks became more powerful, they began to lobby viciously for government deregulation. Eventually, as restrictions on banks were loosened, they began making riskier investments and borrowing dangerous amounts of money, in some cases at a ratio of 30:1 to money the bank actually had. Ferguson goes into great technical detail explaining how banks and insurance companies exploited the system with the help of government officials who, in most cases, were at one point financial executives themselves. Men like Alan Greenspan who praised deregulation allowed wall street and the banks to run wild and manipulate the system, namely how home mortgages were given and paid for. These powerful men on wall street knew that what they were doing was hurting the economy in the long run, but because they were making absurd amounts of money in such a short period of time from a flawed system, they pretended like everything was fine and milked the cash cow until it died, so to speak.
Ferguson does a fine job of breaking down a complex issue in a way that’s easy for the average non-banker to understand. As someone with little to no understanding of the financial meltdown, I consider myself the target audience of this film, and found it to be incredibly informative, though somewhat dense at times. The concepts are laid out plainly through the great visual aids and narration, but it’s easy to lose track of what they’re talking about and get lost in all the technical jargon being thrown around. Still, Inside Job keeps things interesting and entertaining by clearly shining a light on the villains, victims, and heroes of the crisis. By the end of the film you’ll likely find yourself angered by all the rich white collar criminals, saddened by the people whose lives were ruined, and inspired by the smart men and women who tried to warn the world of the impending crisis. You may even find yourself a little disheartened by the fact our government did nothing to punish these large-scale thieves and the fact they’ve done practically nothing to regulate the clearly flawed financial system to prevent something like this from happening again. This documentary hits home hard and really questions the competency of the US government, the morality of wall street, and the overwhelming power of money.
Inside Job looks fantastic in 1080p HD and much of this is due in part to the beautiful cinematography of Kalyanee Mam and Svetlana Cvetko. It’s clear the locations used in the interviews were chosen thoughtfully and despite the fact they a ‘talking head’ shots, they are bright, spacious, and just plain nice to look at. Also, the opening shots of Iceland and the aerial cityscapes of New York are vivid and breathtaking. Considering this is a documentary about the economy and the financial industry, it’s surprising that it was shot in way that is so visually pleasing
As most documentaries, Inside Job is incredibly dialogue heavy film and the interviews and narration are the key tools used to express how the meltdown went down. The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio truly delivers. The narration by Matt Damon is crisp and he perfectly captures the film’s tone of crisis, disappointment, and hope. The interviewees also come through cleanly even in all the archival footage used.
I should also mention that the soundtrack is quite impressive. The song choices are great including the upbeat 80s synth rock during the interviewee introductions and the background orchestral music that builds and maintains the suspense during most of the film.
There are a decent amount of features including commentary from the director and producer, deleted scenes, and a ‘making of’ featurette. However, it would’ve been nice to see more deleted interview scenes and maybe even a gallery of charts, graphs, and important documents shown or referenced throughout the film.
- Audio Commentary with director Charles Ferguson and producer Audrey Marrs
The commentary from Ferguson and Marrs is both engaging and informative. There’s rarely a moment of silence and from the chemistry between them it’s obvious the film was a labor of love. They cover various topics including what it was like interviewing certain officials/professionals, how they chose certain shots, and how they compiled and came up with their questions.
- The Making of Inside Job
A behind-the-scenes featurette exploring how the film was conceived and made. Ferguson discusses in further detail why he made the film and how the crisis should and can be understood by the public.
- Deleted Scenes from Charles Morris
Extended interview footage with Charles Morris.
Whether or not you follow American politics, finance, or economics, Inside Job explores a decidedly complex subject broadly enough for anyone to understand and be engaged by. Ferguson lifts the veil on the financial industry exposing the abuse of power and deep-seeded corruption that many people don’t realize exists. It’s a film that’s often sickening, saddening, and enraging, but will, if anything, leave you informed and hopeful for change.