*Inside Job (PG-13)
Kimball's Peak Three
Inside Job tells an anti-Cinderella story. You don't have to understand all the statistics, or terms such as "securitization," "collateralized debt obligation" or even the ubiquitous "subprime loan." All that's required to get your blood boiling while watching Charles Ferguson's documentary is believing that $161,000,000 is an awfully big severance check for someone who ran his corporation into the ground.
Yes, this film somehow manages to take a breezy look at a catastrophic economic situation, and is all the more successful for it. As Matt Damon narrates, numbers and abstract economical concepts fly by in the dissection of our country's financial collapse, yet Ferguson keeps you riveted.
It starts with a comparatively simple look at Iceland's current crisis, its smooth, "modern" economy now in shambles after the privatization of banks. (As the banks grew bigger and more powerful, Iceland got a head-scratching thumbs-up from the U.S.' ratings system.) Then an Icelandic commentator remarks, "But this is a universal problem. In New York, you have the same problem ... right?"
Cue Peter Gabriel's "Big Time" and slick opening credits, with views of the Big Apple's skyline punctuated by incriminating blurbs from players good and bad. What follows is a tale of sex, drugs and horrifying business decisions. Divided into five chapters starting with "How We Got Here" and ending — most infuriatingly — with "Accountability," the film reaches back into the 1980s, when financial companies went public and Ronald Reagan kicked off a 30-year period of bank deregulation. (The former, leading to those in the finance sector getting rich; the latter, to conglomerates forming.)
Then there was the Internet bubble and those dastardly subprime loans, which allowed more and more people to qualify for mortgages because lenders, literally passing the buck to investment banks and other investors, no longer were penalized in the case of foreclosure. As U.S. Rep. Barney Frank succinctly puts it, "Thirty years ago, if you went to get a loan for a home, the person lending you the money expected you to pay him or her back." Between 2000 and 2003, the number of home loans granted nearly quadrupled, creating a "ticking time bomb."
This, in the most simplified terms, resulted in a big money party, with wannabe homeowners getting loans they couldn't afford and Wall Street players getting even richer. They spent their wealth on planes, mansions and, allegedly, high-end prostitutes and cocaine. And there was no one in government to stop them: Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama appointed to influential financial positions former CEOs and board members of the very companies that eventually self-destructed.
Back to the "Accountability" segment of the film: Essentially, there has been none. No one from Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG, or anyone else who contributed to or benefited from the financial collapse has been criminally prosecuted, and, as noted earlier, many were sent off into the sunset with their wallets ridiculously fat. It's maddening to watch some of their supporters here, hemming and hawing when Ferguson asks them tough questions, or outright lying about the worst offenders' misdeeds.
Meanwhile, Americans are out of jobs and homes, with Damon relating one fact that really strikes the gut: "For the first time in history, average Americans are less prosperous and have less education than their parents."