One of the many illuminating points made in the documentary Inside Job is that the inequality of wealth in the United States is higher than in any other country in the world. The imbalance has caused the middle class to work longer hours and burrow deeper into debt to pay for homes, cars, health care and their children’s education. In 1980, the average U.S. household debt per person was less than $20,000. In 2008, it had ballooned to nearly $50,000.
According to director Charles Ferguson’s lucid, probing exploration of what caused the recent financial crisis that nearly crippled the world market, the increase in personal debt was one of the many consequences of a series of events that began with the deregulation of the financial industry under President Reagan in the 1980s. Just around the time Gordon Gekko was spouting the virtues of greed in Wall Street, investment banks, the mortgage industry and trading firms were already beginning to practice what he preached.
Ferguson, who previously directed the Iraq war expose No End in Sight, has an educational background in mathematics and business, so he knows how to present complicated material in accessible layman’s terms. Inside Job is densely packed with information, charts and graphics, but the film is propelled by an angry, fiery pulse, which is often glimpsed in Ferguson’s interviews with people such as Scott Talbott, a top lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable who becomes tongue-tied by the director’s questions, or Glenn Hubbard, the Chief Economic Advisor during the Bush Administration, who loses his cool on camera and essentially kicks Ferguson out of his office.
One of the most aggravating aspects of the film is that economic advisors and journalists repeatedly sounded alarms about a brewing storm in the mid-2000s, while government officials such as Ben Bernanke, who served under Bush’s council of economic advisers, appeared on CNN, saying such a crisis was ”unlikely.” Ferguson makes no apologies for using his film as a call for action, plainly stating that the men and institutions who caused the financial meltdown are still in power, many of them members of the Obama administration, and that despite losses in the trillions, not a single criminal sentence has been served. Inside Job is an important film, both for its educational value and its ability to instill outrage in the viewer – an emotion that may be a catalyst for change.
Narrator: Matt Damon.
Writer-director: Charles Ferguson.
Producer: Audrey Marrs.
A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 108 minutes. Brief vulgar language. Opens Friday Nov. 5 in Miami-Dade: South Beach; in Broward: Sunrise, Las Olas; in Palm Beach: Shadowood.