Friday, 4 March 2011

Inside Job: a collaborative review by Antonia Jeans and Marloes Nicholls

This week Mervyn King stated that he was surprised at the lack of public anger following the 2008 financial crisis. When Antonia and Marloes went to see Inside Job yesterday evening, we felt that our fellow cinema goers would strongly disagree. As we watched the crisis unfold with the rise of deregulation under the Reagan administration, Clinton's ratification of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley act and the collapse of subprime mortgage lending, the audience recoiled as if we were watching a horror film.

Christopher Ferguson's documentary doesn't just scrutinise the banking and finance industry, it pieces together the events that lead to the crisis with a gripping narrative and all the drama of a Hollywood blockbuster. Ferguson succeeds in making the complex world of CDOs and CDSs understandable to a layperson, without patronising the audience's intelligence.  This is in great part due to the minimal use of jargon in Matt Damon's narration, and clear use of diagrams to explain how financial instruments work.  

By focusing on first person accounts of the key players in the upper echelons of the finance and economics profession, the viewer personally identifies with the story and characters involved. Ferguson cleverly includes outcuts from the interview tapes, catching the interviewees off guard. There are some particularly intimate moments where his frank questioning leaves certain guilty parties embarrassingly (and sickeningly) exposed.

We did feel that a focus on US companies and politics, but an insistence on the relevance of the film globally highlighted a US-centric standpoint. The inclusion of French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, would have been welcomely accompanied by a UK representative such as Alistair Darling. Ferguson also chose to neglect the role of Globalisation in contributing to the financial crisis: low interest rates in Western economies (stemming from cheap import prices which led to low inflation expectations) gave rise to the "search for yield" that made risky assets with high returns like CDOs so attractive.

Having said this, it is widely acknowledged that the crisis of 2007/8 began in the US, and Ferguson couldn't include everything! What the film does best is to reveal the corruption and cronyism within the top tiers of the banking system. It is the same men who sit on the boards of banks who form US financial policy. President Obama's decision to continue the trend is worrying, but it's clearly difficult to find others with the expertise to do the job who are not subject to a conflict of interest.

Above all the film's cinematography remains most vivid. Striking images of Iceland's natural beauty, juxtaposed with the modern industry of the New York skyline, we felt, underpinned the difficult and depressing point that in the UK, as in the US, we are dependent on the banking system to drive the economy.  It provides the basic and essential services of looking after our savings and providing loans. During the boom years we enjoyed the successes and excesses of a system which seemed indestructible. It is left to current governments to negotiate banking reform for which, despite King's opinion, the public are clearly impatient.

A and M

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