Inside Job (Blu-ray)
We heard that question a lot back then in the summer and fall of 2008. Usually it had the words “to my” and a noun appended to the end. What happened to my job? What happened to my mortgage? What happened to my savings? What happened to my city? What happened to my life? Usually, when people’s lives are wrecked by forces far beyond their control – by fire, flood, tornado or tsunami – they are at least afforded the small comfort of knowing whodunit, but even after the countless millions of words written about the near-collapse of the modern financial system three years ago, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an average person who could describe it in any real way.
For Charles Ferguson, a mathematician, teacher and PhD political scientist turned documentary filmmaker, that’s not good enough. A disaster that is not understood is a disaster that can easily be repeated. He set to work collecting research, hunting down documents and footage, and interviewing key figures in the rarefied and incestuous world where Wall Street intersects with public policy. INSIDE JOB is the result of those labors, a documentary that is both a record of what happened and an utterly heartfelt exhortation not to let it happen again.
The subject matter presents unique difficulties; a filmmaker making a documentary about murder doesn’t need to stop the movie to explain to the audience what murder is, what a knife does, or what color blood is. The single most impressive achievement of INSIDE JOB is that, faced with the challenge of explaining one arcane concept after another – ideas like commodities trading, derivatives, hedging, default swaps and subprime loans – it shows us how they all fit together with the aid of deft writing and CGI charts and visuals that transform abstract concepts into tangible, 3-D metaphors.
In the interest of full disclosure, I need to mention that as an economics graduate, none of this stuff was new to me, so I paid careful attention to the layman friend I watched the film with – and when quizzed on the subject matter afterward, his understanding really had improved remarkably. I can unequivocally say that a reasonably bright, attentive person who sits down with INSIDE JOB will come away with a better understanding not only of how this crisis happened, but of the fundamentals of high finance.
Of course, the film also goes to pains to point out that these things aren’t nearly as complicated or intimidating as they appear. Yes, it helps to be a mathematician or statistical modeler if you actually want to trade derivatives, but understanding what derivatives are and what they do isn’t very hard at all. So why don’t most of us understand it? The film’s thesis is that there is an entire class of people – commodities brokers, day traders, investment bankers, auditors, and so forth – who actively rely on our believing that what they do is far too arcane to understand, because that is how they make their money.
That is where we leave the clear seas of fact for the murky and contentious waters of politics, but Ferguson steers his ship ably. People of certain political persuasions are free to (and do) disagree with INSIDE JOB’s conclusions, but nobody who has seen the movie can fairly accuse it of playing fast and loose with the facts: Ferguson conducts his interviews in long single takes and allows even the most hostile interview subjects plenty of time to get their side in. And there are some surprisingly hostile interviews here, a couple of which make for some squirm-worthy viewing for those of us who are sensitive to other people’s embarrassment.
Lastly, a note on technique. The word “documentary” – especially without the word “nature” in front – tends to conjure up thoughts of grainy hand-held footage and slipshod production values, and I am immensely pleased to report that this is not the case here. Appropriately enough for a movie about finance, INSIDE JOB looks like a million bucks, with slick high-definition footage smoothly edited into a compelling, propulsive narrative. And Matt Damon’s narration is up to the high standards of the film around him; he projects smooth, convincing erudition when teaching us and restrained but passionate conviction when persuading us.
Video: INSIDE JOB isn’t what you’ll pop in to show off your A/V setup, but it is undeniably easy on the eyes, with a panoramic 2.35:1 HD picture further helping it to overcome the stereotype of boring documentaries filmed on boring camcorders.
Audio: Your standard Dolby 5.1 DTS mix; again, it’s not here to blow your mind but – crucially for a movie that is essentially two hours of talk – it is never less than crystal clear.
Commentary with Charles Ferguson and Producer Audrey Marrs – A hugely informative track, with director and producer chatting amiably about the sausage-making side of the production – one memorable segment, a long list of federal cases pending against major investment banks set to the tune of “New York Groove,” had to be hugely truncated because the song had only been licensed for two minutes – and expanding greatly on the facts behind the film. Ferguson is erudite and excellent at explaining complicated concepts, which makes it all the more a shame that there are several decent-sized stretches of dead air running through the track.
Making of Inside Job – This is a short (twelve minutes and change) promo piece – but unlike so many of these, it actually manages to use those twelve minutes well, giving us more of the interview subjects and more about the director and the production, and all with minimal use of clips from the actual movie.
Deleted Interviews – This is the real meat of the bonus content, with over an hour of excised material from some of the film’s most interesting interview subjects, including former New York state AG Eliot Spitzer and Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien-Loong. The quality of this material is generally quite high, just as informative and engaging as what made it into the film; you can tell that much of it was not cut because it was unclear or dull but because it simply couldn’t fit. This is exactly the sort of thing Blu-Ray was made for.