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Wednesday 23 February 2011

Film - Inside Job - directed by Charles Ferguson

Star rating – 9/10

The story told in this gripping film is shocking, shaming, and, had it been a pre 2008 drama, we would have probably derided it for being totally unbelievable and ridiculous. The problem is that it is all too true, as director Charles Ferguson takes us through the causes, and effects of the world wide banking crisis and economic meltdown that unfolded in 2008, and is still unravelling even today in a home near you. Well done to Matt Damon for narrating this brutally honest and probing film, which is the familiar story as told from an American point of view.

It actually begins in Iceland, where the deregulation of the banks and thirst to embrace the American global conglomerates led to the meltdown of a peaceful, idyllic country, whose economy was previously hailed as a model for all to follow. Unfortunately we all did – and then some.

The talking heads format used to interview some of the main protagonists in the drama, well those who would agree to participate at any rate, is very effective. Greed on a monumental scale is exposed, as well as a propensity to gamble in an adrenaline fuelled rush with the very highest stakes. The money men of Wall Street (and the captains of this particular industry were very much a male club), apparently were regular users of cocaine, and high class prostitutes, whose fees they had no problem as passing off as legitimate business expenses. Apparently cocaine stimulates the same part of the brain that is also stimulated by very risky behaviour – perfect. And the best of it was that the more they gambled, and the higher the stakes, the more they rewarded themselves in eye watering amounts of millions of dollars of personal wealth each.

But, and you know what is coming, the problem was that it was the working class people of America who paid the price. They were sold a dream of home ownership that their personal finances just could not sustain. But as the very banks that had sold them the loans had also hedged them, or made bets just in case they failed, it was a win-win situation. Or not – obviously – as this international Ponzi scheme was a house of cards just waiting to tumble down.

Charles Ferguson’s excellent and brave documentary does not pull any punches. Heads of all the major financial institutions and so called regulators are made to squirm in their seats as they try to avoid answering straight questions, and get increasingly hot under their very expensive collars. And the finger of shame is also pointed at the academics who are in charge of the top class universities and business schools, oh, and who also sit on many of the boards of the aforementioned financial institutions. So their academic research is really not worth the paper it is written on – or to put it another way – is worth a hell of a lot of money in personal fees that they get from the banks to write the theories that they do. So much for the independence of academia.

Ratings agencies who continued to give the financial institutions the very highest credit rating scores right up until the days and weeks before they either failed or were bailed out by taxpayers also come under fire. And if you were just thinking - well thank goodness that Obama is in the White House now – then think again says Ferguson, as despite his tough talking before winning office, he has in fact appointed the very same people who were in charge of the banks and regulators at the time of the scandal to be his own financial advisors.

None of the film is new, but it is important. We know about the millions of average Americans who have lost their homes and jobs as a result of this behaviour. But it deserves to continue to be told and retold until someone somewhere gets the message and makes changes that will make a difference, and make sure that we learn the lessons from this very public tragedy.

And the irony tonight was that, as I was going into the cinema in Brixton, there was a demonstration across the road outside the town hall protesting about the massive spending cuts that local government in this country is currently enduring. Some might say there is a connection to be made there…and you don’t have to be a clever banker or professor to make it.

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