There have been plenty of books, articles, and movies about the 2007-08 financial meltdown and what led up to it, but if you're looking for a first-rate all-in-one overview, it doesn't get much better than Charles Ferguson's "Inside Job."
With scrupulous fairness, Ferguson meticulously lays out for us the whole sordid mess: the deregulation of the financial-services industry that began in the '80s under President Reagan, the derivatives, insurance swaps, real-estate bubbles, subprime lending scams, institutions like A.I.G., Citigroup, Goldman Sachs – it's all here.
Many heavy-duty players from administrations past and present, including Alan Greenspan, Lawrence Summers, Henry Paulson, and Ben Bernanke chose not to be interviewed for the film (which is narrated by Matt Damon). Those who were, like Harvard's Martin Feldstein and Glenn Hubbard, former economic adviser to George W. Bush and now dean of Columbia University Business School, probably wish they hadn't. Their evasions are mind-boggling.
And, need I say, infuriating. Several of those who at the time warned of impending disaster are also interviewed. Nouriel Roubini, of New York University, is particularly eloquent. Raghuram Rajan, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, talks about a paper he delivered in 2005 warning of an "economic meltdown," for which he was branded a "Luddite" by Summers.
Ferguson previously directed the marvelous documentary "No End in Sight," which anatomized the disastrous US policies in Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein. In "Inside Job," which is equally good in its own way, he keeps the charts and graphs to a minimum. Despite the potentially brain-numbing complications of his subject, I had no trouble following the sickening spiral of deceit and arrant aggrandizement that led to trillions of dollars of losses and, to date, not a single prison sentence.
My only criticism of the film is its somewhat ahistorical bent: Not much is said about the robber barons and crooks of earlier eras – as if all this chicanery had no antecedents. And Ferguson doesn't give sufficient voice to those who actually have suffered from this "inside job." The film is told almost entirely from the perspective of the "players."
As is so often the case with crusading documentaries about sociopolitical malfeasance, the film's climactic entreaties to rise up and fix the world ring a bit tinny – but only because the enormity of what we have been witnessing seems so much more imposing than our means to change it. Grade: A- (Rated PG-13 for some drug- and sex-related material.)