It seems as if Matt Damon is everywhere – playing clairvoyant in Hereafter, bounty hunter in True Grit and man on the run in The Adjustment Bureau. He lends his name and a calm voiceover to Inside Job, a documentary that unravels the utterly derelict morality at the heart of the Global Financial Crisis – a story with a sad lack of people predicting the future and far too few men on the run. The film picked up this year’s Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, and is both a careful exposition of the causes and effects of the crisis that shook the world in September 2008, and a deliberate call for action against those who were – in writer/director Charles Ferguson’s view – clearly responsible. It seems as if the foxes in charge of the pre-GFC chicken coop are now being paid handsomely to look after the next batch of chooks.
After opening with a brief case study of the Icelandic experience of deregulation (Iceland’s banks collapsed, the stock exchange dropped 90% and unemployment tripled), Ferguson switches his focus to America and structures the documentary in five easy to digest parts. The first three are mostly well known details: some recent economic history, a look at the get-rich-quick bubble that grew from 2001 to 2007, and a description of the crisis itself. Ferguson makes the explanations of complexity seem easy and is never short of interesting interviewees – despite the fact that many key players “declined to be interviewed” (the ones who did probably regret it).
But it’s parts four and five of the film (“Accountability” and “Where are we now?”) that are the most devastating. Moving beyond the corporate veil of financial institutions, rating agencies and regulatory bodies involved in the disaster, Ferguson makes it clear that the individual men and women behind the decisions that caused the crisis not only benefited from what happened, but are still running the financial services sector. Despite President Obama’s election promise to change banking culture, he’s been unable to counter the serious political clout of the industry, and changes to regulations and incentive schemes for bankers now seem highly unlikely.
Ferguson also briefly touches on the seedier side of the crisis – the cocaine and prostitutes paid for with expense accounts as bankers competed for bigger deals and better bonuses. He also drags in the world of academia – exposing the role that business school economists played in selling the wonders of deregulation and derivatives.
It’s an insightful and very sorry tale of the worst kind of greed, and with the deliberate lack of a resolution, the film – which requires some concentration – will almost certainly leave you feeling that heads must roll.