Matt Damon puts his money where his mouth is over banks

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By the director’s own admission Inside Job is both a tirade and a crusade to persuade average Joe Schmo to sit up and take notice of the continuing effects of the global economic crisis that began in the US in 2008.

Charles Ferguson’s stance is laudable and his film, via talking heads from a Who’s Who of banking experts, attempts to provide a comprehensive portrayal of an extremely important and timely subject: the worst financial crisis since the Depression. By means of Matt Damon, the film’s narrator, it taps into ordinary Americans’ fears that the horrors of the Great Depression will return via a catastrophe that many agree was avoidable.

Ferguson’s film points to the progressive deregulation of the financial sector since the 1980s which gave rise to what he describes as “an increasingly criminal industry”, whose “innovations” have produced a succession of financial crises. Each has been worse than the last; and yet, due to the industry’s increasing power, each crisis has seen few people go to prison.

As narrator, Damon is either the voice of reason or the mouthpiece for a piece of Left-wing propaganda. He has less of an investment in this film than contemporaries like Leonardo DiCaprio, who wrote and produced the environmental documentary The 11th Hour. Yet he brings a sense of normality to the intensely intricate big business of business finance.

Like Al Gore, who personally hosted the global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Damon nails his colours to a very specific mast. It’s a courageous, even foolhardy, move – like Custer taking on the Sioux at Little Big Horn.

Damon’s role is to vocalise what the (American) audience cannot: help ordinary folk to understand the fundamental nature and causes of the on-going crisis. He’s seen as an honest man – a “nice” man. On that basis there’s no-one better placed to underline what Ferguson calls “the importance of restoring honesty and stability to our financial system and of holding accountable those who destroyed it.”

In a film liberally scattered with master manipulators in power suits, one figure stands out: blonde Kristin Davis, the tanned, pneumatic “Manhattan Madam” to countless investment bankers who was convicted of promoting prostitution and served time on Riker’s Island. She appears to sum up everything that was rotten about the out-of-control banking world and its proximity to fleshpots, excess and greed.

Davis is a distraction to the real message. And the stark reality of that message might have been filtered down had it not been for Damon’s decision to step up and speak out. In that respect Inside Job is a public service message by an actor with a conscience.

He’s just not as overt as DiCaprio, or as preachy as Gore. The trick is in persuading the wider public that this is deeper than just headlines, and more accurate than Michael Moore’s skewed “faction” films.

Intellectually dishonest or right on the money? Only the bankers know for sure...

Inside Job (12A) opens at the Showroom Cinema, Sheffield, today.