Two nights ago Cannes audiences watched Oliver Stone take down the moneymen of America through greed avatar Gordon Gekko with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. But yesterday, documentarian Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight) came right out and said what Stone could only fictionalize with the rip-snorting, indignant documentary Inside Job. Though Ferguson's film begins with a scrolling shot of the New York skyline that’s almost identical to one in Stone’s film, Inside Job directly takes on the bankers behind the 2008 financial crisis, attacking early and often. Ferguson gets support from interviews with professional Cassandra Nouriel Roubini, Barney Frank, George Soros, Eliot Spitzer and others. But the most effective presence may be the trusted voice of all-American actor Matt Damon, who narrates the furious takedown of the financial services and the government. It's a fairly bold move by the actor.
This isn’t some maudlin and comical tale, like Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story; this film is a smart, inciting rant. The documentary argues, as many have, that there is a kind of toxic co-dependence between the financial services industry, Washington, and university economics departments. If Goldman Sachs is a vampire squid, Ferguson is attempting to map out all the major conflicts of interest in the financial world: a kind of Transylvania Sea World.
The aggressive (and, yes, utterly biased) tone of the film makes Damon’s participation all the more notable. As the narrator, Damon explicitly takes President Obama to task for hiring so many of the financial executives who pushed deregulation, and for neglecting to push the feds to pursue any criminal cases against executives on Wall Street. Damon, who campaigned for Obama, has also recently said he’s “disappointed in the health care plan and in the troop buildup in Afghanistan.” This doc may be one more sign that Democratic celebrities are going to push harder against the man they helped elect.
While people are chattering about Inside Job, the same buzz is hard to find elsewhere so far. There have been moderate successes (The Housemaid, Tournee, Tuesday After Christmas) but no real critical smashes. Two of the latest films to disappoint? Aurora, from Romania's star director Cristi Puiu, and Rubber, one of the festival's most talked-about genre flicks, thanks to its star: a murderous rubber tire.
Puiu has said that Aurora is an attempt to display the everyday relatability of a murderer, so he took the role of the murderer himself. Unfortunately, he so underplays the man as a nearly-mute, shuffle-footed dullard that the character emerges as a bizarre cipher. Watch him walk, watch him sulk, watch him kill, watch him explain. His character’s confession is supposed to play as comedy, but it’s a long, dull wait for any payoff. Puiu has also jokingly apologized for his film’s achingly slow pace, so at least he’s aware of his limitations. But in attempting to dramatize the banal nature of crime, he’s committed a crime of banality.
It seemed like Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber might be the fest’s one true genre flick: a horror movie about a rubber tire that kills people. Well, the tire does indeed kill a rabbit, a scorpion, a bird, and many, many people — but it’s more of a formal exercise than any real fun. Though the film is beautifully shot and formally composed, the meta-minded film is deeply ambivalent about delivering any real fun. It’s much more concerned with narrative gimmicks and commentary on filmmaking, via an on-screen audience which “watches” the film unspool through binoculars, and constant commentary on the “no reason” meaning of it all. Unfortunately, the meaning is all too clear, and the horror all too disappointing. Worst of all, the tire kills everything (telepathically) in the exact same way, via telepathic, head-exploding powers, so the violence becomes dull and repetitive long before the joke wears out.