Client 9: The Rise And Fall Of Eliot Spitzer 2 1/2 stars
Magnolia Pictures, Rated R
The United States may brag about what an open and democratic society we live in, but the inner circles of government and the economic sector are so secretive that opposite assertions can appear to be true at the very same time. Such is the case with Client 9: The Rise And Fall Of Eliot Spitzer.
The latest in a series of documentaries by eminent maven muckraker Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, Casino Jack and The United States of Money), Client 9 is, in contrast, a positive-leaning puff piece presenting the provocative claim that the sexually disgraced former NYS governor’s ongoing cleanup campaign of Wall Street could have entirely prevented the ensuing economic crisis still plaguing the country. Which, considering the fact that the meltdown was global, is really a stretch.
The film also dabbles in explaining away Spitzer’s private darker side by way of an artist’s surreal flights of fancy on canvas, intimating that humans are simply half and half. We’re not talking coffee; rather, the “angel and animal hybrid” that tends to define humankind. Spitzer himself, who speaks on camera frequently without being challenged, is fonder of grandiosity, in characterizing his fall from grace, as a Greek mythology-style targeted assassination by the gods, which takes that half-and-half notion to an entirely different level in the realm of half truths.
What transpires is a celebration of Spitzer’s well-earned title of “Sheriff of Wall Street,” targeting those financial “masters of the universe” in addition to a cast of disreputable characters, both at the stock exchange and in government, who gloat over his downfall. Meanwhile, the publicly straitlaced, regulation-obsessed Spitzer’s reckless private behavior is more reticently touched upon and never quite gels with the rest of the documentary.
So was Spitzer a closet danger junkie, a stranger sex addict, the traumatized boyhood victim of a stern real estate tycoon dad “who foreclosed me in monopoly,” or someone possessed of a kind of adolescent sense of indestructibility and omnipotence that enormous power and wealth can bring? Even a shrink’s interjected two cents would have been helpful. Instead, we’re treated to the nonsensical rants of the luv guv’s giggly pimpette, a woman now serving time in the federal pen linked to her vocation of choice, and an actress stiffly roleplaying one of Spitzer’s call girls (no, not that one) because she doesn’t want her face, only her unchallenged claims, publicized.
But what the documentary lacks as a balanced portrait is another dark side that can be attributed to Spitzer, information gleaned from my astute critic colleague Louis Proyect—who would seem to qualify as a potential esteemed documentarian himself:
1. As Attorney General, Spitzer engaged in union busting and filed numerous draconian injunctions against the NYC Transit Workers Union and jailed their president.
2. He urged Bush to attack Iraq before the war began.
3. Spitzer supported the death penalty, applied disproportionately against nonwhites.
4. He aggressively defended then-Governor Pataki in court against a challenge to the state’s racist school funding formula.
5. He supported closing hospitals.
6. Spitzer’s connection to the NYC real estate conglomerates, through his multi-millionaire real estate baron father, may have been connected to his receiving big financial campaign contribution.
When all is said and done, it’s hard not to wonder: Perhaps Spitzer’s mission was less about protecting the public interest than intervening in the housing market anarchy afflicting Wall Street on behalf of the entrenched interests of the real estate gentry. Not, coincidentally, counting his family among them as well.