2010 // USA // Charles Ferguson // July 11, 2011 // DVD - Sony (2011)
Charles Ferguson's riveting No End in Sight is an excellent example of how a composed and agile presentation of facts can produce a tremendously potent documentary exposé, without resorting to stunts, gags, or clumsy emotional appeals. It also happens to be one of the best films made to date about the Iraq War. (Perhaps even the best, depending on whether one counts Standard Operating Procedure or In the Loop. ) Ferguson's debut feature demonstrated that he had the aptitude to convey a sprawling real-life tale with clarity, gravity, and discipline, and in doing so elevated him a notch above more renowned and gimmicky purveyors of agitprop such as Alex Gibney, Michael Moore, and Davis Guggenheim.
It's therefore gratifying to see Ferguson's talents brought to bear on the most critical public affairs story of the past decade, the ongoing Great Recession. It's a challenging tale to tackle, partly due to the intrinsic complexity of the subject matter, and partly due to the intense politicization of its elements. As a result, even the broad outlines of the recession have never been very effectively communicated in the mainstream press. Granted, NPR's This American Life won a Peabody award in 2008 with their impressive piece on the housing crisis, "The Giant Pool of Money," but the scope of Inside Job is much broader, stretching all the way back to the sweeping financial deregulation of the Reagan years and concluding with a finger pointed square at the Wall Street cronyism of the Obama administration.
The style of Ferguson's sophomore effort is similar to that of No End in Sight. The director interviews prominent figures from the financial industry, government, academia, and the media, piecing together their testimony to construct a narrative about the financial crisis' origins, structure, and effects. Some of these interviewees are friendly to Ferguson's sublimated anger, and essentially become his proxies for a scathing rebuke of those alleged Masters of the Universe who heedlessly ushered in a global economic meltdown. Ferguson also speaks with think-tank apologists for Wall Street malfeasance and a few of the perpetrators themselves, who betray not an iota of remorse, bristling at the suggestion that anyone is to blame for our current predicament.
The director intersperses these talking heads with gorgeous but anonymous photography of soaring skyscrapers and deserted subdivisions, and copious visual effects that present head-spinning financial topics with striking lucidity. Viewers still hazy about collateralized debt obligations or credit default swaps will find no clearer or more concise explanation of the role such dodgy financial products played in sinking the world's economy.
Inside Job is an admittedly handsome documentary, but ultimately one whose formal cinematic attributes are less significant than the facts that the film seeks to convey. There is little information in the film that is new, but it is indispensable to have that information presented in one slick package. The film is therefore less a work of art than an essential piece of top-notch explanatory journalism, the cinematic equivalent of a long-form work of reporting for a glossy magazine. In condensing a confounding subject with such vigor and livid focus, Ferguson reaffirms his status as America's grim professor of calamity.