Charles Ferguson, the director of the 2008 Iraq War documentary No End in Sight and now Inside Job, seems to be carving out a role for himself in the documentary-filmmaking scene as a potent summarizer of some of our most pressing global crises. On the face of it, sure, Inside Job—which comprehensively sums up how various historic, economic, political, and personal forces combined to lead us to the global financial crisis which engulfs much of the world now—might seem too little, too late; what more is Ferguson adding in this film that those who closely follow history, economics, politics, or even just everyday news don’t already know?
And yet, there’s something to be said for a film that offers up not only a lucid, wide-ranging summary of such defining events of our time, but a sense of clear-eyed outrage as to how the global economic system got to such a screwed-up state. Ferguson is no less politicized and fiery in that outrage than, say, Michael Moore—but unlike Moore and his sometimes bullying style, he is canny enough to let facts, not to mention some of the more damning admissions or omissions of his panoply of talking heads, speak for themselves.
If there is a limitation to Ferguson’s approach in both this and No End in Sight, it’s the near-total absence of what might be called “human-interest stories”; Ferguson’s approach mostly focuses on facts, expert opinions, concise explanations of complex concepts, and tough probing of authority figures. (The closest it comes to human interest is an entire section devoted to the psychology of Wall Street traders, using scientific evidence to liken trading to crack addiction, and noting many traders’ predilection toward engaging with prostitutes.) That Inside Job doesn’t come off as merely academic is a tribute not only to the skill with which this film has been put together, but perhaps, more simply, to the material itself. This recession has hit many of us so hard, and yet some of the architects of this crisis remain not only extravagantly well paid, but in prominent positions of leadership. (Even after President Barack Obama’s stirring-in-the-moment campaign promises of “change,” people like Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner—people who helped contribute to the crisis in the first place, Ferguson argues—are still around in the halls of power.)
And when you hear people like former Fed governor Frederic Mishkin actually claiming, in front of Ferguson’s camera, that he apparently resigned from his Fed-chairman position in 2008 in order to “revise a textbook” while the global financial system was on the brink of collapse…well, really, is extra commentary necessary?
The 48th New York Film festival runs from September 24 to October 10. For a complete schedule, including ticketing information, click here.