Friday 21 July 2017

Movies: Inside Job *****

(12A, general release)

Paul Whitington

If the title of Charles Ferguson's film makes it sound like a heist movie, then in a sense it is. The heist in question here, though, is what Mr Ferguson sees as the monumental greed and cynicism of the financial sector that led to the 2008 economic crash.

To many of us who listened to news reports of imploding Manhattan banks at the time, the reasons for all this chaos remained obscure: what were derivatives when they were at home? We've found out a bit more since, but Inside Job will answer all your questions.

Ferguson's film is a masterful exercise in research and analysis that hacks its way to the heart of the 2008 meltdown, while somehow managing to make a blizzard of hard facts and financial expositions entertaining. And you'll be glad to hear that we're not mentioned once.

Instead, Inside Job starts in Iceland, the tiny northern Atlantic state that hit the skids in October 2008 in a manner that now sounds eerily familiar. Since the early 2000s, Iceland's tiny banks had been borrowing huge sums of money to speculate in the potentially lucrative but totally unregulated derivatives market. By October of 2008, when the guano hit the global fan, Icelandic banks had managed to accumulate a debt six times the size of the nation's gross domestic product.

As we know to our own cost, those kinds of figures just don't add up, and Ferguson's film traces the travails of the international banks to a radical laissez-faire economic philosophy that first emerged in America in the mid-80s. Under the administration of Ronald Reagan, Wall Street began to clamour for increasing financial deregulation. This gathered pace during the Clinton years, and as unchecked banks took ever greater risks their profits soared, leading to the emergence of a new elite of high-living financial chiefs who had private jets, multiple homes and multi-million dollar bonuses.

Under the guidance of such men, once stolidly respectable institutions such as Goldman Sachs became the high finance equivalent of betting shops: greater and greater profits were pursued at any cost, and they even figured out a way to make money out of recessions.

Narrated by Matt Damon, Inside Job includes excruciating interviews with some of the men who drove the Wall Street madness of the early 2000s and don't seem to feel all that bad about it. It's a riveting, maddening and deeply unsettling documentary.

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