A contender for the year's most depressing documentary, at least this film is sharply well made. It's also the first doc about the financial crisis that coherently helps us understand both what happened and what's going on now.
The film plainly explains how the financial craziness started with Reagan's deregulation in the 1980s, after which the investment houses started making increasingly huge short-term profits and enormous bonuses. Of course, this money had to come from somewhere, and it turns out that the bankers were knowingly stealing it from the people they were selling bad debt to all along.
Warnings that a crash was coming started in 2004 but were ignored by the government regulators, and more than 30 million average-income people have lost jobs or homes as a result.
Using exhaustive research and extensive interviews, the film is lucid and riveting. Many interviewees speak with raw candour (some inject badly needed moments of humour), while the filmmakers fill in the story with news footage and strikingly clear graphics. Non-financially minded viewers will be surprised that they actually understand derivatives and credit default swaps, while Damon's able narration never condescends to us.
Simply put, these investment bankers are after personal gain at the expense of the public. So why aren't they in prison for money laundering, defrauding customers, conflict of interest and cooking their books? All of this is documented, but they're now either earning multi-million dollar bonuses at still-thriving financial institutions or working in the highest offices of government. After Reagan, both Bushes tilted the system to take money from the hard-working middle classes and give it to the most wealthy, while Clinton did nothing at all and Obama has only taken symbolic steps.
This isn't surprising when you know that all five presidents have hired Wall Street millionaires in key positions. As a result, America now has the largest disparity between rich and poor in the industrialised world, leading to economic chaos, crumbling education (people can no longer afford university) and an increasing housing crisis (as they can't buy homes). In other words, this is a film that gets our blood boiling in all the right ways. And it's not a polemic rant: it's a plain-speaking, journalistic document that's all too true.