Reviews

Review: Inside Job

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After every major crisis that the American people face, the expected reaction from the Hollywood community is to quickly pump out several movies on the subject until it gets stale. Documentaries and dramatizations of such large events are fast tracked at the moment of their existence, with studios hoping that the “best” movie about the subject will be seen as the “definitive” movie, one that crystallizes the subject in people’s minds. Films like Bowling for Columbine and An Inconvenient Truth are considered to be among the best of breed for this topical documentary genre, with their staying power lasting far beyond opening weekend.

So, with the fallout from the financial meltdown still palpable for audiences, Inside Job steps up to try and explain just what happened back way back in 2008. And make no mistake; Inside Job unabashedly wants you to consider it the authoritative voice on the subject. Barely anything in the film is considered opinion, as the film strings you along from one “fact” to the next in an heavy-handed manner. The film doesn’t just ask questions of the financial industry, but out and out draws a narrative declaring the connections between people, documents, and events.

After every major crisis that the American people face, the expected reaction from the Hollywood community is to quickly pump out several movies on the subject until it gets stale. Documentaries and dramatizations of such large events are fast tracked at the moment of their existence, with studios hoping that the “best” movie about the subject will be seen as the “definitive” movie, one that crystallizes the subject in people’s minds. Films like Bowling for Columbine and An Inconvenient Truth are considered to be among the best of breed for this topical documentary genre, with their staying power lasting far beyond opening weekend.

So, with the fallout from the financial meltdown still palpable for audiences, Inside Job steps up to try and explain just what happened back way back in 2008. And make no mistake; Inside Job unabashedly wants you to consider it the authoritative voice on the subject.  Barely anything in the film is considered opinion, as the film strings you along from one “fact” to the next in an heavy-handed manner. The film doesn’t just ask questions of the financial industry, but out and out draws a narrative declaring the connections between people, documents, and events.

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This is all to say that the film does not find its narrative throughout the course of shooting, but rather that it has a narrative and viewpoint distinctly laid out from frame one. By constantly contrasting haunting footage of abandoned suburban landscapes with the imposing architecture of Wall Street, Inside Job paints a very slick, but clear, picture. Wall Street took advantage of the country, and now we are all stuck with the consequences of the scam that a few uber-rich jerks pulled off.

Rather than adopting a viewpoint from the political right or left (as the film skewers both Republicans and Democrats equally), Inside Job instead takes a distinctly populist stance. According to the filmmakers, Washington is so far inside the pockets of Wall Street that even now, years after the crash, we are helpless to change anything through traditional channels. That’s not to say that the film takes an extreme stance; in fact, it very consciously works to appeal to the moderate center of the political spectrum. But rather, there is a persistent feeling that the viewer should be roused to come out of the theater ready to kick the financial industry out of politics.

The true failing of the film, however, is that its eagerness to educate the audience is also its biggest narrative weakness. At a hefty 120 minutes, Inside Job works long and hard to get the viewer up to speed on the nuances of the financial disaster.  But, in the midst of explaining CDOs and exposing connections between politics and Wall Street, a good chunk of the film loses the human element. It’s hard not to sigh when Matt Damon, the narrator of the film, talks for minutes on end about the technical details of how mortgages were bundled with barely an interview to break up the monotony of the lesson.

And this is unfortunate, since the film actually provides a very comprehensive overview of why the market collapsed. It just doesn’t do so in a way that is immediately accessible. The film is stuck in the odd position of being too complex for a complete novice to understand, yet it is too basic for someone who's already familiar with the core of the problem.

When the film finally lets up from hitting you with a wall of facts and figures, it actually starts to liven up quite a bit. There are several classic interview moments which absolutely revel in making the interviewees squirm while answering questions about their own involvement in the meltdown. It’s unfortunate that this is all almost exclusively seen in the last third of the film, at a point where you are almost too exhausted to make it through to the end.

Without a doubt, Inside Job has some shining documentary moments that anyone interested in finding out more about the crisis should see. It’s just a shame that these moments are buried in a documentary that took on more explanation and detail than one film could handle.

Overall Score: 7.20 — Good.(7s are good, but not great. These films often have a stereotypical plot or are great movies that have a few minor flaws. Fans of this movie’s genre might love it, but others will still enjoy seeing it in theaters.)

Inside Job has the heart of a truly moving documentary, but gets bogged down in the details. The film assaults the viewer with too many facts without enough emotion behind them. Will it make you more aware of what happened? Without a doubt. Will you be able to explain it to someone else? Not well.

Toby Jones:

Overall Score: 8.00 — Inside Job just barely edges out Casino Jack and the United States of Money as the best political documentary of the year. See both, learn a lot, be angry. You can read his full review here!