Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscars: Inside Job (2010): Impeccable!

"Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that's wrong,"
- Charles Ferguson, Director, Inside Job

In 2007-2008, the fall in the housing market perpetrated an unprecedented Crisis that brought the world on the verge of complete and total meltdown. Trillions of dollars were lost and with it, millions of people unemployed. Countries like Iceland were bankrupted and U.S. debt doubled. Some countries witnessed serious political changes, upheavals even, while others saw economic and social crises. The Crisis left no one unaffected, except, as Inside Job argues, the people who perpetrated it; namely, corporate executives at investment banking firms like Goldman Sachs, Bear Sterns, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Chase and more.

Narrated by the politically active and sincere Matt Damon, Inside Job begins with the story of Iceland and its journey from a geologically rich, progressive and idyllic country having an “end of history” moment to a bankrupt nation with debts 10 times the size of its Gross Domestic Product. The film then shifts focus to New York and Washington where all the action ensued and tells a tale of uninhibited greed, lust, sex, drugs and corruption that makes Oliver Stone’s Wall Street films look like Disney movies. It is a chilling account of how the financial services industry has committed frauds with alarming regularity on an increasing scale. These include not only frauds on the market and investors but also violation of international norms by laundering money and providing funding to dubious projects. Each time, it has paid fines and promised to make amends before regressing into the same routine on an even larger scale precipitating into the 2008 Crisis. The film provides an insightful look into the unchecked corporate greed that formed its foundation and gives a sharp critique of the bonus culture in the financial industry and its consequences.

The strength of the film lies in its research. It is based on facts, documents, academic and journalistic writings, and the testimony of some of the brightest minds in law, politics, business and economics today. Further, it also provides testimonies from some of the people who were squarely in the middle of the action like Eliott Spitzer, Jerome Fons, Frederic Mishkin and others. These interviews, media clippings and various bits of evidence are carefully pieced together by director Charles Fergusson and the result is a powerful, engaging and sweeping narrative that, in just less than 110 minutes, provides a detailed and clear understanding of how and why the Crisis happened. As a person who has researched in this area in some detail, I was quite satisfied by the arguments forwarded and the opinions expressed by Fergusson. For a layman, this is a particularly enlightening film with the right mix of shock, humour and indignation.

It is easy to dismiss Inside Job as one sided. However, it is hard to deny that this is an intelligent, sharp and incisive look into the 2008 Crisis; its causes and consequences. This is a work of angry humanism that criticizes both, Republicans and Democrats for pandering to Wall Street raiders at a tremendous human cost. For a layman, this film is a brilliant place to start understanding what exactly happened and why and at the end of the day, it is hard to deny that these executives were irresponsible, and very possibly even complicit to consciously defrauding the public of trillions of dollars.

Rating: 4/5

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