The past several months have seen an attempted rehabilitation of Eliot Spitzer in the public eye, first with baby steps like writing columns for Slate and The Washington Post, and now as co-host of the wheezing he-said/she-said CNN talk show Parker Spitzer. Yet he remains a walking punchline, a once-popular New York governor forced to resign for his dalliances with high-priced prostitutes. Given his reputation as a tireless crusader, his downfall was especially precipitous: Once called the “Sheriff Of Wall Street” for his takedowns of white-collar chicanery as attorney general, then later elected to clean up the systemic corruption in Albany, he immediately lost the moral authority that defined him as a politician. Where other public officials survived similarly reckless indiscretions, Spitzer had to hold himself to the higher standards he expected of others, and had no choice but to resign in disgrace.
Alex Gibney’s sympathetic documentary Client 9: The Rise And Fall Of Eliot Spitzer continues the Spitzer rehabilitation tour, but it doesn’t excuse his indiscretions or hypocrisy, and it eventually makes him squirm in the face of his embarrassing (and extensive) lapses in judgment. Still, the film primarily lays out a convincing case that Spitzer was kneecapped by the powerful Wall Street titans and Republican bigwigs he’d battled throughout his career in public service. Gibney gets several of Spitzer’s Wall Street adversaries on record, including former AIG head Hank Greenberg and former head of the NYSE compensation board Ken Langone, in addition to political operative Roger Stone, a flamboyant character who embraces his role as a GOP hatchet man.
Gibney balances a thorough history of Spitzer’s turbulent (but frequently triumphant) career with a fascinating account of the big-money prostitution rings that serve many New York athletes, Wall Street executives, politicians, and other elites. The targeting of Spitzer is viewed as an egregious overreach at best, and a pernicious conspiracy at worst. Client 9 feels at times too subservient to Spitzer’s public-relations needs, and Gibney’s journo-doc template, established in movies like Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room and Casino Jack And The United States Of Money, is getting a bit too predictable. But the film rescues the story from tabloid hell, and asks for a saner assessment of a deeply flawed man.