Can a documentary ever be as entertaining as a fictional feature film? And, if it can, does that mean it cannot be a serious contribution to public debate? Inside Job, director Charles Ferguson’s Oscar-winning account of the origins of the US subprime mortgage debacle and the 2008 banking crisis, is a case in point. It is compelling viewing — and as a guide to why the financial world went mad, it is more vivid than any screen drama I’ve seen (though the BBC’s The Last Days of Lehman Brothers felt pretty authentic), and easier to absorb than any of a shelf full of books on the subject.
But that doesn’t mean it is an even-handed account of what happened: far from it. Right from the prologue — which fingers financial deregulation as the root cause of national bankruptcy in Iceland — Inside Job is fiercely hostile to free markets. It juxtaposes details of the pay and lifestyles of bankers like Dick Fuld of Lehman with shots of boarded-up houses and jobless Americans in tents. Brilliant editing makes George W. Bush’s officials and economic advisers look like fools, while congressional grillings make bankers look like charlatans without much help from Ferguson. Giant leaps of argument are disguised by Matt Damon’s terse commentary and a driving musical soundtrack.
Like Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, you know you’re watching a shameless left-wing polemic — but one so artfully made that you can’t help but be swept along by its righteous anger. Available on DVD (Sony Pictures) from 13 June.