The “characters” that Ferguson features in his documentary are by far the most interesting and engaging aspect of the film. That “cast” includes:
- Multiple economists ranging from those who have been warning for years about the dangerous practices of Wall Street, to those who have been downplaying that danger.
- Bankers/Traders – both the moral and immoral types.
- Government officials who have direct ties to the financial sector.
- Educators from top universities who are involved (often unethically) with the financial sector.
- Advocates of social reform and justice.
- Foreign economists/government officials who have mapped the ripple effect of Wall Street malpractice.
- A psychotherapist who treats Wall Street execs and the escorts who service them.
- A madam whose primary clientele was Wall Street execs.
Truly, some of Inside Job‘s best moments come from the unexpected detours Ferguson takes into the psychology and seedy private behavior of high-ranking Wall Street types. A definite pattern quickly emerges in which the same people who are thrilled by high-stakes investing and ludicrous greed are equally thrilled by money, drugs and prostitutes, often at taxpayer expense. The two worlds – financial services and illicit vice – seemingly go hand-in-hand.
Another big revelation of this film: some of the people responsible for the “academic stamp of approval” that legitimizes many fraudulent reports published by Wall Street are the same people heading up America’s leading business schools today (Yale, Harvard, Columbia, etc…). In fact, Ferguson’s interviews with two of these esteemed academic names about their obvious unethical behavior are so damning that I’m not sure the two men will keep their jobs should this film gain notoriety. It’s a clear case of journalistic victory, captured on camera.
If I have to criticize Inside Job it has to be on two points: first, there is a ton of material that Ferguson presents, but a lot of the social impact is only discussed superficially. Of course, looking at every ripple caused by the global financial crisis of 2008 would result in a three to four-hour documentary, and admittedly Ferguson is wiser to stay tightly focused on his primary subject (the financial services sector). But despite offering viewers a concise narrative, you can’t watch Inside Job without getting the nagging feeling that there’s much more going on that ties into what Ferguson is discussing; not getting that correlating info can be a bit frustrating at times.
The same goes for the lack of commentary from many of the major players (top CEOs turned government officials) being discussed int the film. While Ferguson does manage to get commentary from an impressive array of specialists, not having some of the top dogs on record robs the film of being an indisputably objective and complete look at this subject.
The second criticism I have is with Ferguson’s choice of narrator for the film: actor Matt Damon. Sure, Damon’s voice will be a welcome guide for many viewers, but having a well-known actor with pronounced liberal views speaking for what is essentially a non-partisan film is a misstep, in my opinion. Damon’s presence will give easily-swayed or politically fundamental viewers an excuse to slap this film with the label of “liberal propaganda” based on that celebrity association alone, and this film is far from being partisan in any way.
Those small criticisms aside, Inside Job is an accomplishment that does what a great documentary should: present an important societal topic in a way that is accessible and comprehensive to a mainstream audience. And, as the film states in its final moments, the continuing malpractices of Wall Street are a crime for which few have been punished, but damage of which continues to threaten our very way of life. We’ve been officially warned.
Watch the trailer for Inside Job to help you make up your mind: