THE CRISIS was not an accident," wholesome narrator Matt Damon tells us at the beginning of Inside Job, referring to the 2008 economic crash that crippled the world's economy, kicked off a seemingly endless run of foreclosures and job losses, and destroyed several generations' faith in economic systems. "It was caused by an out-of-control industry," Damon continues, and then Inside Job proceeds to show us how—not only how the crisis happened but, more terrifyingly, how easily it could happen again.
With any documentary—especially the kabillion that were made after Fahrenheit 9/11, when Michael Moore showed every disgruntled armchair pundit how easily they could fire up iMovie and get all sorts of self-righteous—there's the risk of agitprop, and that risk gets steadily higher whenever you can tell the filmmaker's pissed. Here, director Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq) isn't just pissed, he's italics pissed. With punch, humor, and plenty of anger, Ferguson briskly zips through the financial industry's recent history, outlining our country's systematic insistence on deregulation and the consequences thereof, all while happily tipping over sacred cows. (More than a few of Inside Job's more arrogant talking heads—visibly surprised to be challenged in the midst of their monologues or excuses—look like they'd tear off Ferguson's if given half a chance.)
Despite how justifiably upset Ferguson is, Inside Job never feels unreliable. Partly, this is because Ferguson has either sweet-talked or tricked a truly impressive lineup of experts to be his interviewees (everyone from economic advisors to former heads of the Federal Reserve, to the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, to the Prime Minister of Singapore, to an out-of-work guy in Florida living in a tent), and partly it's because the film contains a Statistics 101 course's worth of hard numbers and bar graphs. But mostly, it's because Ferguson cuts right to the embarrassing, shitty human core that corrupted up our banking system and made people lose their homes, jobs, and faith: greed. Throw all the math at it you want, fill the screen with finger-wagging economists, and pan over countless empty, abandoned McMansions, but nothing's gonna be as convincing, or as damning, as Ferguson's too-rare acknowledgment that human nature is what got us into this mess. And human nature, in case you haven't noticed, doesn't change too often.