Shame... greed... never mind the facts

Marc Sidwell
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Cert: 12A

THIS much-hyped look at the financial crisis has already won the best documentary award from the Directors Guild of America and is seen as a strong contender to take an Oscar. So it’s a shame that a would-be fearless exposé of a supposedly rogue industry is a rehash of old accusations, selective in its use of the facts and too fixed on ideological enemies to notice the blindness induced by its own political biases.

The director, Charles Ferguson, makes sweeping claims: he sees the entire financial services industry as “increasingly criminal”; the premise of the documentary is not only that the crisis could have been avoided but that either the entire industry, or at least those at the top at the time, should be sent to jail. But Ferguson never makes the sort of forensic, detailed case that could sustain that belief. Instead we get a run-through of the already well-trodden main events of the crisis, enlivened by sometimes painful, always partial interviews.

In the process, as much is elided as is revealed. Ferguson hymns the world of US banking before Reagan-era reforms as both wholesome and low-paid (for him, it appears, the two come to much the same thing). But he paints out of his Norman Rockwell imagery the Carter era of malaise and stagflation that drove Reagan’s successful efforts at economic resuscitation. He repeats the common misconception that the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act repealed the regulatory framework on commercial and investment banks. He derides those who thought that derivatives were serving a useful function in stabilising markets, but fails to discuss the all-too-real phenomenon of the great moderation and how it changed economic perceptions of risk.

The film sticks to the usual script that greedy bankers driven by perverse compensation structures chased their salaries up to the detriment of their firms. Dick Fuld of Lehman lost $1bn in stock thanks to the crisis, but we don’t hear about that. Instead, Ferguson flings all the mud he can, from ad hominem arguments about prostitution and drug use to a conspiratorial tangent about academic economists. But he consistently fails to shine the same light on his own sources: Eliot Spitzer’s disgrace is notably glossed over.

Inside Job touches some important issues, such as the failure of the ratings agencies and over-cosy government links with the financial industry. But Ferguson is so committed to attacking deregulation that he fails to consider the role of over-regulation, notably the 1970s SEC regulation that turned the ratings agencies into an oligopoly or the 2001 recourse rule that encouraged US commercial banks to hold less capital on mortgage-backed securities. Inside Job may win the Oscar for its passion, but it comes up short on content.

Cert: 15

ET meets Easy Rider in this sci-fi adventure comedy, although English nerds Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings (played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) bear little resemblance to the edgy, drug-fuelled bikers of the latter film. The drug taking that occurs in Paul is in fact initiated by the titular wise-cracking alien, who gatecrashes Graeme and Clive’s road trip across America’s UFO heartland – and who happens to be partial to the occasional joint.

Paul (voiced by Seth Rogan) is on the run from a military base where he has been imprisoned and enlists the help of the geeky Brits in his quest to return to the mother ship. The trio are called upon to outfox a series of government baddies (led by Jason Bateman) along the way, including the bible-bashing father of good Christian girl-turned-swearing nymphomaniac Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wigg). This last bit involves some startlingly close-to-the-bone gags which are sure to rile inhabitants of the Bible Belt.

Directed by Greg Mottola of Superbad fame, this is a good-natured affair, and Rogan is on top vocal form – the contrast between the weedy, needy Englishmen and their smooth-operating, quick-witted alien counterpart is enjoyable. Crucially however, Paul is a long way off matching Superbad, or Pegg and Frost’s previous partnerships like Shaun of the Dead, in the funny stakes. It’s packed with tongue-in-cheek sci-fi references – so atheist geeks, at least, will love it.
Amy Higgins