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Client 9 (Review #2)

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

Dir. Alex Gibney (2010, USA, 117 mins.)

It is a mistake to think of this documentary as the story of one politician’s personal indiscretion. Client 9 is much more – it is the story of corrupt Wall Street bankers and traders, of a crusading Attorney General, cloak-and-dagger politics, egregious media manipulation, and remarkable hubris all around. The most striking thing about this documentary is its relatively positive portrayal of Spitzer – after all, the man took on such landmark cases as 2002’s inflated stock price scandal, 2003’s late trading mutual fund scandal, and 2005’s case against securities fraud case against AIG. In fact, Spitzer’s targets read like a who’s who of the 2008 financial crisis. The film does not shy away from Spitzer’s hypocrisy, but it does argue that outrage over Sptizer is overblown.

This film’s greatest strength is the fact that the majority of the main players agreed to appear on screen and make their own cases. Spitzer himself cuts an impressive figure and is not above comparing himself to Icarus. Where he disagrees with other principals interviewed, Gibney cuts between the interviews, letting the audience determine for themselves who ought to be believed. Ultimately, Spitzer argues that he brought himself down, preferring to credit his hubris rather than his enemies.

However, Spitzer the only compelling interviewee, nor is he the only man in this film guilty of some form of hubris. Client 9 features a host of Spitzer enemies (such as indicted former New York Republican Joe Bruno, former NYSE chairman Richard Grasso, and disgraced former AIG CEO Maurice Greenberg), all of whom give generously to the documentary, and frankly, their contribution is part of what makes it successful. Providing a counterpoint, as well as emotional depth and rare insight, are interviews with some of the call girls and madams from the New York prostitution scene. However, there are two noticeable missing characters – Ashley Dupre, the escort who cashed in on the scandal, and the unnamed escort (dubbed ‘Angelina’) Spitzer apparently favoured. Dupre only appears in stock footage, but Angelina agreed to be interviewed – provided that her face and voice did not appear in the film. This led to a fairly odd choice by Gibney: he had an actress portray Angelina. This has some mixed results, but tends to work more often than it doesn’t.

Whether this film changes Spitzer’s political fortunes remains to be seen; however, I suspect that it has the power to do so. Not all of the points brought to bear by Gibney seem credible, but enough hit the mark to merit rethinking Spitzer.

–       Dave Robson

(Client 9 has been held over at Cineplex, AMC, and Carlton in Toronto, and AMC in Montreal; the DVD will be released in February of 2011)