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Inside Job

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Inside Job
Released on Friday, Feb 18 2011

With its swooping widescreen photography of Manhattan and a thumpingly-loud use of Peter Gabriel's 'Big Time', you'd be forgiven for thinking that the opening credits for Inside Job were swiped from one of the Wall Street movies. Where Oliver Stone mined financial boom and bust to create narrative dramas, Charles Ferguson uses the economic collapse of 2008 to conjure up this fascinating Oscar-nominated documentary that seeks to make the unaccountable accountable. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Inside Job were both on the bill at last year's Cannes - and would make a decent double-bill - but it's the latter film that leaves the lasting impression.

Ferguson begins in Iceland, where the country is self-sustaining on a $13 billion gross domestic product. When the nation's three largest banks privatise, borrowing sky-rockets and the economy crumbles. Iceland's financial woes represent, on a smaller scale, those that affected the US banking system and consequently sent the world plunging into recession. America's relatively stable economy began to slip away in the early '80s as deregulation kick-started, lessening government control on how big business is run. It opened Pandora's box; derivatives and subprime mortgages with sky-high interest rates sparked Armageddon, but the Wall Street and government high-fliers responsible emerged unscathed and still rolling in cash.

Inside Job finds itself with a difficult task: having to unravel the intricacies and complexities of financial jargon so the laymen can understand. Collateralised Debt Obligations and Credit Default Swaps (CDO and CDS) may baffle those of us without a Financial Times subscription, but Ferguson is able to lay out his story in a quick and informative fashion. It's all the more impressive when he doesn't have the imposing presence of a Gordon Gekko to create fireworks. Instead, Ferguson assembles his own motley crew of financial experts - plus a madam providing wealthy brokers with "service" and several conniving villains - for the post-mortem. Even Eliot Spitzer makes an appearance, happy to poke fun at the prostitution scandal that ended his governorship.

The movie is calmly narrated by Matt Damon, but Ferguson is able to slowly build up anger and fury - and transmit that to the audience - as the story progresses. He wheels out numerous interviewees who dodge his questions and refuse to acknowledge the consequences of their moral bankruptcy. Frederic Mishkin, a former governor of the Federal Reserve, splutters his way through Ferguson's questions. His paper written in praise of Iceland's financial sector (paid for by the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce, no less) had a word in its title changed - "Stability" to "Instability" - when the European country's bubble popped. Mishkin denies all knowledge. Ferguson continuously challenges deregulation cheerleader Glenn Hubbard, a former economic advisor to George W. Bush, only to be met with a blunt ultimatum. "You've got three more minutes. Give it your best shot," snaps Hubbard.

Ferguson concludes that irresponsible acts from the rich and elite have gone unpunished, and with a lack of financial reform post-2008 the bust is destined to happen again. This is a compelling documentary that will have you leaving the cinema absolutely seething.


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