Most recent documentaries can be lumped into two categories – there's the "narrative" documentary, in which a very specific story is told, usually with the use of perspective and the creation of identifiable characters. Everything from 'Crazy Love' to 'Catfish' to 'March of the Penguins' to 'Client 9' can be shoved under this umbrella. The other type of documentary that has taken hold in recent years is the "issue" documentary, in which a subject matter is tackled broadly and for maximum populist impact – things like 'An Inconvenient Truth' and 'Capitalism: A Love Story.' What's amazing, though, is the way that Charles Ferguson, in just two documentary features, has shown himself able to merge the two styles of filmmaking into one cohesive movement.
In 2007, Ferguson brought us 'No End In Sight,' (Only out on DVD at the moment) the most comprehensive breakdown of the Iraq War (before or since). In meticulous, but never confusing, detail, he showed, step by step, how the folly of this war was played out, both behind closed doors and for the public. And the title really was telling.
With 'No End In Sight,' he crafted an "issues" movie in which the "narrative" was one of public deception. You were the main character, with the shadowy curtains being peeled away on what was so obviously a major strategic bungle.
His second feature (and the movie I'm actually supposed to, you know, be talking about) was last year's 'Inside Job,' a searing look at the collapse of the financial institutions. Using the clearheaded analysis that he brought to 'No End In Sight' (hysterical partisanship never got anyone anywhere), he traces the decline of the financial institutions and the overall corruption that didn't so much get the better of them, but got the better of the American people.
As he describes in the special features, 'Inside Job' is a heist movie in which the bank managers are the ones stealing the money. And it's true: the methodical way in which Ferguson presents the facts of the financial collapse (with help from Matt Damon's extraordinary narration) beautifully mirror the very deliberate moves that the institutions made to, essentially, rob people and then get away with it. It's an amazingly told narrative, and one that points to a very big issue. If your blood isn't boiling by the time you finish watching 'Inside Job,' then you probably are a robot, or some kind of sophisticated vegetable that has been able to mimic human behavior.
'Inside Job' accomplishes what I considered to be a staggering impossibility: it made me understand, however briefly, what the financial collapse was all about. This is accomplished with the outstanding narration by Matt Damon and a series of helpful diagrams, which go a long way in showcasing the complex financial maneuvering that caused the collapse. The movie's various pressure points are emphasized via a series of compelling talking head interviews with a whole bunch of people in the financial sector. Some of them start to squirm early on and at least one participant asks to have the cameras turned off during his interview. It's a testament to Ferguson's investigative prowess and the clarity of his storytelling skill – he gets these guys where he wants them, exposing them for the frauds and thieves that they are. It might be one of the most powerful heist movies ever made.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony brings 'Inside Job' to Blu-ray via a 50GB Blu-ray disc that is Region Free. The disc plays automatically, after which the perfunctory "Blu-ray is the greatest!" montage plays, followed by several previews of only tangentially related movies. The disc is BD-Live enabled but as if this writing no additional features have been activated.
'Inside Job' comes equipped with a sturdy 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (aspect ratio: 2.34:1) that does the handsome documentary justice.
On the commentary track, director Charles Ferguson says that he really wanted to make the movie look better than most documentaries, and for the most part he succeeds: the film opens with a great segment set overseas (it's a prologue that details the Icelandic financial/environmental collapse - an eerily similar folly to ours), with gorgeous vistas and shots of clouds peeking out from behind mountaintops.
When the action shifts to the wolves of Wall Street, we get a wonderful title sequence where the camera glides over Manhattan (courtesy of an all-day helicopter ride, according to the commentary), and the visuals pop further - detail is amazing, depth spectacular, and only when the movie settles into its groove do any issues emerge.
Since the movie is composed mostly of talking head interviews (some of which look great, it should be noted), there isn't a whole lot of stuff to look at. Archival footage and photographs pop up from time to time, which signify a definite downgrade in picture quality, just because of their inherent graininess and texture. But otherwise the transfer is virtually grain free, which actually adds something to the cloistered, clean environments that you imagine these architects of our world live in.
Skin tones are generally good (with more shades than you'd expect when watching a movie about the banking industry), black levels are solid, and there are occasional issues with noise, but those are few and very far between. Overall, a really wonderful, nearly eye-popping transfer - and it's a documentary!
The sound mix for 'Inside Job,' a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 deal, does a great job at what it's supposed to do. It's not going to make your hair stand up on end or scare your cat out of the room, but really, it shouldn't be doing that anyway.
The main area of concern with a mix like this is clarity – clarity for the answers that the interviewees give and clarity for the narration that Matt Damon provides. And both sound amazing, here. Really, they do. Things are mostly kept front-and-center, but everything sounds crisp and clear and things are always well prioritized.
Surround channels aren't used a great deal, but when the occasionally music cue does come up, everything springs to life marvelously. The score, a somber, ominous affair, does creep in through the lower channels from time to time, giving things some nice body, but the mix is mostly a front-and-center affair, which for the purposes of the documentary, never falters.
Additionally, there are subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Hindi, and Turkish. Huzzah!
The extras on 'Inside Job' are pretty voluminous.
'Inside Job' is a keen, insightful, and clearheaded look at the financial collapse. As Charles Ferguson points out, it was a huge, multi-layered con that was played on the American public, with surprisingly efficiency and devastation. Through narration by Matt Damon and helpful diagrams (not to mention a host of cutting interviews), this thesis is solidified, until, at the end of the movie, steam is coming out of your ears. Or at least it should. The Blu-ray of 'Inside Job' carries with it a handsome presentation (both audio and video are crystal clear and well suited for this particular 'Job'), with a bevy of supplemental features that will further illuminate the crisis and the con. Highly recommended.