Directed by: Charles Ferguson
Written by:Chad Beck, Adam Bolt, Charles Ferguson
Released: February 17, 2011
Grade: A

Big time, I’m on my way I’m making it, big time, oh yes

Big time, I’ve got to make it show yeah, big time

Big time, so much larger than life

Big time, I’m gonna watch it growing, big time

  - Peter Gabriel (Big Time)

Inside Job is one of the most impressive documentaries that I’ve seen in recent years.  I realised this from the opening credits.  It’s a beautiful helicopter flyover of New York City to the tune of Peter Gabriel’s Big Time.  This extended sequence has been interlaced with images of those we’ll hear from during the film.  There are a lot of people who want to go on the record and offer their “two cents” about the recent global financial crisis.

Like any documentary filmmaker, Charles Ferguson has a point to make.  For several decades after World War II, the United States had a strong, robust banking sector.  It was tightly regulated.  Banks had to meet strict investment and liquidity guidelines to minimise their exposure.

That changed in the early 1980s as the U.S. began the gradual deregulation of the banking industry.  It allowed for the creation of riskier, unregulated investments such as derivatives.  We also saw banks lending money to just about anyone.  They didn’t care if you couldn’t repay.  Staff just wanted their short term bonuses.

It all came to an abrupt halt in September 2008 following the demise of Lehman Brothers, the fourth largest investment bank in the United States.  A number of other banks were also close to bankruptcy.  With the world’s biggest economy on the verge of collapse, the government announced a $700 billion bailout package.  To put that into perspective, that’s about $2,300 for every living person in the United States.

When making a movie like this, the tricky part is working out how to sell the message.  How can you encapsulate the crisis into two hours?  How can you explain complex financial instruments to an ordinary person?  How can you illustrate the insatiable greed that exists within the industry?

Charles Ferguson has found a way to do it.  He speaks with everyone from the Prime Minister of Singapore to a highly paid escort.  He has taken these interviews and woven them into a compelling narrative – starting the story back in the 1980s and quickly working his way through to the current day.  The film has a great deal more content than Michael Moore’s attempt at the same subject matter, Capitalism: A Love Story (which was still decent).

Ferguson also does a good job of avoiding the “politics” associated with the topic.  He isn’t pointing the finger at any particular President or political party.  They all played a part in this mess and the current President, Barrack Obama, is no exception.  There has been little change to banking regulation since 2008 and some of Obama’s key staff appointments will leave you scratching your head.

A good friend summed up Inside Job best when he called it “the comedy of the year”.  It’s true.  You’ll be laughing at politicians, lobbyists, educators and highly paid financial executives.  How did they manage to get away with some of this stuff for so long?  How are some still getting away with it?

Nominated for best documentary at the upcoming Academy Awards and smartly narrated by Matt Damon, Inside Job is great cinema.