In a perfect world, Charles Ferguson’s muckraking documentaries would feel redundant, since they’d be doomed to cover material exhaustively and painstakingly chronicled on the evening news. But in this imperfect world, we need a focused, disciplined filmmaker like Ferguson to map out clearly, persuasively, and compellingly how exactly the Iraq War devolved into such a historic boondoggle (the subject of his acclaimed 2007 documentary No End In Sight) and why the economic collapse of 2008 happened and what we can do to ensure that it never happens again.
With humor and righteous indignation, Inside Job documents how the mania for deregulation encouraged an incestuous relationship between big banks and regulatory agencies that do more to promote rampant corruption and fraud on Wall Street than curb them. Painting on a big canvas and roping in an all-star brigade of talking heads to provide context, Ferguson tells a big story that stretches across decades and encompasses everything from a housing bubble rooted in the kind of greed and chicanery that would make Fagin recoil in horror to high-flying stockbrokers spending their gaudy expense accounts on hookers and blow.
The overwhelmingly white, rich, and old talking heads of Inside Job are partially there to provide context and commentary and partially on hand to provide a gallery of eminently hissable villains. Though Ferguson is never actually seen, he makes his presence felt to an almost distracting degree by asking uptight financial ne’er-do-wells damning questions, then cutting away from them either before they can defend themselves or mid-sentence. From an emotional standpoint, it’s enormously satisfying, even cathartic to watch Ferguson “nail” some of the rogues behind the economic crisis with the unseemly zeal of Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report, but journalistically and cinematically, it feels like a self-congratulatory flurry of cheap shots, albeit at richly deserving targets. Yet ultimately, Inside Job is as much crisp, professional journalism as ballsy takedown, and the film’s two sides complement rather than detract from each other.