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Published November 12, 2010, 12:00 AM

‘Inside Job’ examines Wall Street treachery

We meet all the usual suspects – the round-robin of Robert Rubin, Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner and their ilk, bouncing from big investment banking firms to positions of power in assorted presidential administrations or high-ranking roles in the U.S. Treasury Department.

By: Roger Moore, McClatchy Newspapers, INFORUM

MOVIE REVIEW

“Inside Job”

  • Fargo Theatre
  • Rated PG-13 for some drug and sex-related material
  • 112 minutes
  • 3 out of 4 stars

We meet all the usual suspects – the round-robin of Robert Rubin, Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner and their ilk, bouncing from big investment banking firms to positions of power in assorted presidential administrations or high-ranking roles in the U.S. Treasury Department.

“Derivatives,” “CDOs,” “securitization” and sub-prime mortgages and their role in the financial meltdown are explained.

Filmmaker Charles Ferguson can interrupt and challenge those who pushed for deregulation, who championed derivatives and risky behavior, who let themselves and their academic institutions be corrupted by the scent of new-found, unearned money.

But “Inside Job,” a documentary arriving after a historic endorsement at the polls of those who pushed the deregulation that caused a worldwide recession, plays like a cry of impotent rage at a system that has been so thoroughly gamed that a candidate can run on “change we can believe in” as a motto, when the people who watch what’s going on can note that too little has changed, that “it’s Wall Street’s government.”

This scathing expose should be enough to alarm people all over the political spectrum. But in a polarized America with a collective short memory and shorter attention span, it won’t reach many more people than the “Obama is a Socialist” right-wing doc “I Want Your Money.”

The only people who get off lightly here are financial journalists, especially the cable TV cabal of cheerleaders, who never challenged anyone the way Ferguson does in this film. “This is not a deposition, sir,” snaps a former Bush financial adviser who teaches at an Ivy League school and takes money for endorsing, as an allegedly unbiased academic, the very policies and practices that brought misery to millions. But will R. Glenn Hubbard pay a price for his slippery pay-for-praise?

No. The platinum parachute crowd protect their own, rolling from Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch to the Fed, where they see to it that Goldman Sachs suffers no penalties when it gambles and loses, that “too big to fail” is now a hallmark of the nation’s financial institutions. In the film, experts and journalists ask about the lack of a special prosecutor to look into this vast conspiracy behind the criminal wrongdoing and the obscene double-dealing behind the massive reallocation of wealth from the many to the few, and nobody has an answer.

Matt Damon soberly narrates “Inside Job,” which features several uncomfortable interviews with those who caused the mess. But most of the worst offenders didn’t sit down. So there are many more clips from congressional testimony as these modern-day robber barons were at least harangued by folks like Henry Waxman and Barney Frank. You can’t help but wonder if there’ll even be that much oversight now that a new Congress has been bought and paid for by the business lobby, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their fellow travelers.

Ferguson’s film drifts into the “risky behavior” that bonds traders and others on Wall Street engage in off the clock, their cocaine and hookers habits, underscoring the sort of people we’re allowing to run the financial show. But again, it’s all just so much cursing the darkness and preaching to the choir.

As a film indictment, “Inside Job” compares favorably to “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.” But it plays more like an epitaph than a jeremiad. All this unraveling of a mess that a lot of not-as-bright-as-they-think people created won’t be seen by an electorate too ready to shrug “It’s too complicated, let’s move on.” And there’s the tragedy.

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