Film review: Inside Job

USA 2010

Film still for Film review: Inside Job

Reviewed by Vadim Rizov


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

A documentary on the causes of the American recession. The film briefly summarises the 20th century’s financial history before examining the deregulation that triggered bad investments, with a particular emphasis on Collateralised Debt Obligations (CDOs). Financiers, economists and politicians are interviewed, and the film ends with a call to action to stop unthinking deregulation.


In 2005’s Syriana, Matt Damon played an unusually straightforward oil representative; in a key scene, he laid out an impassioned but plausible case for why Arabic oil lords should be exploited by him and no one else. In Inside Job, Damon sounds nerdier and less convincing in the service of a much worthier cause; narrating the underlying reasons for the American (subsequently world-impacting) recession, he can’t bring the same fire he brought to fictional capitalistic rapaciousness.

Inside Job is less interesting than the background of its director, Charles H. Ferguson, internet entrepreneur (he sold his company Vermeer Technologies for $133 million in 1996), life member of the influential Council on Foreign Relations, impassioned foreign-policy wonk and devoted cinephile. Regrettably, a documentary about a committed political geek using his money to produce agitprop for the wider public might have been more interesting than Inside Job; the follow-up to Ferguson’s 2007 Iraq war documentary No End in Sight, it provides a decent overview of the recession for the incredibly ill-informed, but there’s pretty much zero new information here.

Inside Job

The smartest guys in the room? Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner

Instead, the main value of the film is in offering clear, concise and patient explanations of Collateralised Debt Obligations (CDOs) and the other strange financial apparatus that, with the help of an unthinkingly laissez-faire economic policy, helped once again demonstrate the untrustworthiness of unsupervised American investors and bankers looking for a golden parachute even if that meant the destruction of their companies.

Such, anyway, is the story offered here, and while this reviewer found no reason to disagree, Inside Job won’t do much to win over the politically opposed (or seduce the ambivalent). The film begins with dramatically swirling helicopter views of Iceland, an attempt at widescreen drama subsequently undermined by what’s basically a talking-heads film in a severe aspect ratio. Ferguson’s thesis is established; his interviews (with those who agreed to participate – Alan Greenspan and other controversial figures declined to take part) are predetermined affairs. Off camera, Ferguson offers up the voice of smug retribution rather than interrogation; the facts are already known.

Most financial journalism assumes a level of familiarity with basic terms that excludes the worried but novitiate reader; Inside Job often seems like a glossary of key terms rather than an actual argument, though the clear explanations do at least perform a commendable public service. As a primer for the ill-informed, it’s leagues ahead of the usual cranky video activist documentaries, and as a clip show of 1990s financial hubris – with footage of Greenspan et al – it’s oddly evocative of a just-gone era, in much the same way that Ondi Timoner’s We Live in Public (2009) stirred memories of the internet 15 years ago. For all its demerits, Inside Job is far more watchable than it should be.

See also

Out of the ether: Daniel Trilling reviews Hito Steyerl’s video essay In Free Fall, a meditation on the uncanny half-life of global capitalism through the journey of an aeroplane chewed over by the movie industry (November 2010)

English pastoral: Mark Fisher on Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins (November 2010)

Walking on air: Mark Cousins sees Inside Job at the Telluride Film Festival (October 2010)

Capitalism: A Love Story reviewed by Tony Rayns (March 2010)

Down in the hole: Kent Jones on The Wire (May 2008)

Crisis in happyland: David Mamet on It’s a Wonderful Life, America’s unofficial Favourite Film (January 2002)


Directed by
Charles Ferguson
Produced by
Charles Ferguson
Audrey Marrs
Written by
Charles Ferguson
Directors of Photography
Kalyanee Mam
Svetlana Cvetko
Chad Beck
Adam Bolt
Set Design
Mariko Marrs
Alex Heffes
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011