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Cannes 2010: Who's really responsible for the financial crisis?

May 17, 2010 | 11:15 am

Besides loud tour groups and dubious financiers pushing their way down the Croisette, few things get Cannes-goers' blood boiling more than a cutting documentary. But that's exactly what Charles Ferguson delivers with "Inside Job" -- a persuasively argued, thoroughly detailed, full-throated prosecution of the culprits of the financial crisis that premiered Sunday night as the first screening of what may well be the most important movie to come out of Cannes this year.

There will surely be much more to come in the next few months on the film -- check out Kenneth Turan's excellent piece in Monday's edition of The Times as the start of the wave of coverage -- but as financial regulation continues to percolate in the news, it couldn't be more timely right now.

Ferguson, who added his comprehensive reporting and even-keeled voice to an explosive current-events debate with the excellent Iraq exploration "No End In Sight," is even more on his game here. He traces the rise and fall of the financial bubble of the aughts, telling a damning story that should make you a thousand times angrier than anything Michael Moore has ever done.

Some of what's in the movie will be familiar to audiences who regularly watch the evening news -- though even here it's a sharp reminder of the jaw-dropping audacity (the Goldman Sachs fraud case as well as attendant C-SPAN footage of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) are on full display despite happening just a few weeks ago).

But Ferguson's film also finds many new avenues of exploration -- the cozy relationship between academia and Wall Street, and the entrenched, possibly corrupted, mindset of the economic leadership within the Obama administration (Larry Summers is the real bad guy, but Ferguson spreads the blame around; one of the film's more pointed characteristics is that it faults Democrats and Republicans equally).

There are also a few great moments of unexpectedness, including an appearance by Eliot Spitzer, who Ferguson effectively depicts as a man, who for all his flaws, was one of the few from the mainstream to challenge Wall Street  (though he also shows plenty of pre-collapse voices of warning that the establishment and the government chose to ignore). That Ferguson does it with a straightforward, occasionally even dry touch makes it all the more powerful. It's impossible to leave the theater in any state other than indignant disbelief.

At a dinner with media afterward, Ferguson was equally impressive, talking about some of the incisive footage he didn't have room for -- including an interview with the prime minister of Iceland on whose watch that country's collapse took place -- his optimism about reform (he has some, but not an overabundance), and how he expects his relationship with many of the world's top financial and economic personalities, with whom he has professional relationships, to change after the release of this movie.

"Inside Job" is in a sense a companion piece to Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps;" where Stone's movie dramatized specific characters against the backdrop of the financial collapse, Ferguson's film provides the context of the collapse itself. Sony Classics, which is releasing "Inside Job," is aiming for a late September or early October release, marketed in conjunction with, or at least alongside, Fox's "Wall Street" It couldn't come along at a better time.

-- Steven Zeitchik, reporting from Cannes, France


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