Published Nov 19, 2010Eliot Spitzer was, not that long ago, just before the rise of Obamamania, the great hope of the American political left, a New York state's attorney turned governor who relished going after big fish and reeling them in via high profile legal cases. Targeting the likes of insurance giant AIG and investment firms like Merrill Lynch, Spitzer argued that deregulation and rampant greed were going to bring the world's economy to its knees, and his tough-as-nails stance earned him the nickname "the sheriff of Wall Street."
Then Spitzer was exposed as a patron of a high end escort service (he was "client 9" in the investigator reports), he resigned as governor in the midst of the scandal and just a few years later, the avarice of the companies he'd targeted nearly did bring down the world economy, prompting a multi-billion dollar bailout at the expense of American taxpayers.
In this in-depth documentary, Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) digs deep into the world of high-class prostitution and explores the political and financial gain to be had if Spitzer could be removed from his position of power and influence. Gibney doesn't go so far as to accuse the CEOs of some of Wall Street's biggest companies of conspiring against Spitzer, but he does lead us right to their well-appointed doors, points inside and invites us to draw our own conclusions.
Great documentaries can hinge on access, and Gibney gets plenty. Spitzer delights in retelling tales of his glory days as New York's state attorney, his cowboy sensibilities against corrupt corporate America lacking only spurs and a six-shooter. He also recognizes that being frank about his "dalliances" is key to his redemption; his obvious discomfort somehow makes him a sort of sympathetic figure, even as he mentally slaps his forehead when recounting his political undoing.
Gibney delves into the revelations of Ashley Dupre, the woman who's made her name as "Spitzer's girl," and discovers that she was neither his regular lady, nor his favourite choice. That she's piggybacked her involvement into D-list fame (posing for Playboy , writing a sex column for The New York Post) is just one irony in this tale. Gibney does track down the supposedly high profile society woman who was Spitzer's escort-of-choice, and conducts an off-camera interview, which is then "performed" on screen by actress Wrenn Schmidt. (This is made clear in the film.)
But it's the other side of this story – how much various high profile CEOs and moneymen hated and wanted to destroy Spitzer – where Gibney really makes hay. By carefully laying one plank of evidence after the next, he chronicles exactly how Spitzer was building his political career by taking on the most powerful men in America, and succeeding. The amount of vitriol expressed on camera by these masters of the universe makes it clear that Spitzer was enemy number one in their world. Gibney then traces the relatively clear paths between their connections and the revelations that destroyed Spitzer's political career. They practically rub their hands with glee at this, all but cackling with Cruella DeVille-ish delight.
There isn't enough direct evidence to convict anyone of wrongdoing – and Spitzer was in the wrong. But given the handful of other political scandals mentioned in the doc (Clinton, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and others) for whom affairs weren't their political undoing, it's clear that, however it went down, Spitzer was targeted in a clearly politically motivated attack. That he couldn't keep his laundry clean enough to do the job he was so focused on, and uniquely positioned for, is the great shame of this story. (VSC)