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It's been said that money is the root of all evil. In recent years, desperate financial woes have made even the threat of terrorism feel like kitten play. There's a global crisis in full spin right now that's resulted in collapse, ruin, and crippling unemployment, paralyzing a majority of nations. Yet, there are a select few in the corridors of power who saw this coming, even encouraged it to line their abyssal pockets with cash and feel out the boundary of their ego. Inhaling the toxins, the documentary "Inside Job" steps back and scrutinizes the pickle we're in, understandably aghast with the state of the monetary union.
In 2007, director Charles Ferguson broke down the mechanics of the Iraq War with his documentary, "No End in Sight." It was a composed, blistering peek at the military machine, broken down into interviews and graphs to help the layman comprehend the enormity of combat. The filmmaker elects a similar cinematic route for "Inside Job," thwacking the viewer with a tsunami of complex information, again diced up into a clean read of financial devastation, bringing along Matt Damon to coolly narrate the madness and guide the viewer through a blitzkrieg of numbers, faces, last names, and acronyms, directly speaking on the scope of the abuse.
If you're like me and only retain a shamefully tentative grasp on the roots of the global financial crisis of 2008, "Inside Job" is going to appear blurry at first. Thankfully, Ferguson doesn't leave anyone behind, stylishly throttling the sprint of the facts and figures to reinforce the path of corruption. Even the most politically and financially uninformed will get the hang of the feature in a hurry.
"Inside Job" kicks off in Iceland, observing the meltdown of the local banking system due to severe deregulation, which allowed the country to capsize, sending a powerful signal to the rest of the world that trouble was coming. Ferguson moves on to New York City, charting the rise of Wall Street's power and greed, helped along by Ronald Reagan's efforts to deregulate (a venomous term used throughout the film) the financial sector in the 1980s. A seemingly simple act to infuse America with wealth was quickly perverted by corporations and banks, which began an elaborate game of Three-card Monte with a fragile mortgage loan system that rewarded the rich through acts of stock-based fraud. Emboldened by easily manipulated political leaders and fierce lobbyist support, the powers that be went unchallenged, creating a tremendously profitable "bubble" in the mid-2000s that was about to burst.
And burst it did. Ferguson only wallows in the depressive aftermath for a few beats, showing the effects of unemployment on the average American. Primarily, "Inside Job" is on the hunt for accountability, and it paints a thrilling, sickening, infuriating portrait of the people in charge, who, despite playing a part in a meltdown that nearly destroyed America, were consistently rewarded for their actions. It goes beyond blaming powerless presidents (Obama is thoroughly reprimanded as ringleader of a "Wall Street government") to the men and women in suits, who've lied, cheated, and manipulated their way to a fortune while everyone else suffers through recessions and depressions. The usual unethical suspects are hauled in for inspection: Greenspan, Bernanke, Paulson, and Geithner, but Ferguson makes it clear that this corruption and unchecked rape of the system is a Washington-wide problem, necessitating an exhaustive house cleaning and overhaul of modern politics, and a possibly a reintroduction of regulation (i.e. shutting off the money faucet).
"Inside Job" also reveals the crooks have invaded college campuses as well, with some of the more notorious architects of financial doom openly ignoring conflict of interest charges by accepting economic teaching positions at Harvard and Columbia. These are the fellas teaching future generations how money works. Good luck sleeping tonight.
Slickly produced and sharply directed, "Inside Job" asks tough questions and delivers bleak answers, but hope is not all lost. A valuable educational tool and a bold documentary, the picture cuts right to the bone, bravely switching on the floodlights to find out where all the cockroaches have scattered.