November 11, 2010

Client 9

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Client 9

DOCUMENTARY:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-11-05

Running Length:

1:57

MPAA Classification:

R (Profanity, Sexual Content, Nudity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

Eliot Spitzer

Director:

Alex Gibney

Screenplay:

Alex Gibney

Cinematography:

Maryse Alberti

Music:

Peter Nashel

U.S. Distributor:

Magnolia Pictures

Subtitles:

none


I wish I could claim many of the revelations contained within Client 9 are shocking, but they're not. By following the story of the rise and fall of Eliot Spitzer, director Alex Gibney peers behind the political curtain and discovers what we all know: even the most strait-laced politicians have skeletons in their closets. In many ways, Client 9 is as depressing a movie as one is likely to encounter. There's a certain Shakespearean element to Spitzer's story - he's a heroic figure with a tragic flaw. That flaw is exploited by his enemies to bring him down. Gibney, who made the brutal and revealing Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (as well as Taxi to the Dark Side and Casino Jack and the United States of Money) once again illustrates that the state of Denmark isn't the only place where rot has undermined the foundations.

Still, at times Client 9 feels frustratingly incomplete. Gibney hints at a conspiracy among Spitzer's enemies but is unable to fully substantiate this thesis. In fact, none other than Spitzer torpedoes it by declaring that, however his opponents may have profited from his missteps, he has no one to blame but himself for his tumble from grace. Client 9 is not chock full of interesting revelations. For the most part, it functions as a summary of previously available information. The only thing I learned is that Spitzer's supposed "regular," prostitute Ashley Dupré, was someone whose services he had purchased only once. She capitalized on the attention, lapping up her 15 minutes of fame and earning the label of "media whore." (There were, however, other women - the exact number is not provided.)

For a movie primarily about how a sex scandal unseated a powerful elected official, Client 9 is often dry, because it spends a lot of time explaining the issues Spitzer investigated on Wall Street while functioning as New York's Attorney General. Spitzer earned his nickname as the "Sheriff of Wall Street" during that phase of his career, and Client 9 exhausts more than half its running length detailing his triumphs while in that post (the early 2000s). Only about 25% of the movie relates directly to Spitzer's experiences as a client of the Emperors Club and his decision to resign as governor of New York. Rather than being an expose of the seedier elements, Client 9 embraces Spitzer's struggles with former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg and New York's Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

Although Client 9 benefits from a solid catalog of news footage (the scandal played out publicly) and interviews with Spitzer, Bruno, Greenberg, and Roger Stone, the gaps created by the absence of conversation with certain subjects are noticeable. For example, Dupré appears only in archived videotape and still photographs. Ditto for Spitzer's wife, Silda (who remained with him after the scandal). Considering the access provided to Gibney by Spitzer, his wife's lack of participation in any capacity is odd.

The portrait of Spitzer that emerges throughout Client 9 is of a straight-talking, no-nonsense individual whose non-political way of getting things done crafted a lot of enemies. When Spitzer's weakness was revealed, those enemies pounced. Ultimately, the governor's downfall was the result of a common failing among the powerful - hubris. Like many in lofty positions, he believed his own press that he was "untouchable" and somehow thought that he could consort with high-priced prostitutes without having to pay a personal and political price. It's an old story - one that has been played out so often in the news that it has become a cliché. The belief that "power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely" was around long before Lord Acton committed it to paper in the 1880s.

Like Richard Nixon and many others who suffered similar falls as a result of arrogance and sins that fed their rivals, Spitzer is enjoying a renaissance and one can't help but feel that, to some degree, Client 9 is one aspect of an effort to rebuild his image. In this case, he does it not by justifying or denying his culpability, but by acknowledging and explaining it. The Spitzer interview is by far the most fascinating element of Client 9. The detached tone employed by Gibney is at variance with the outrage on display in Enron, and it makes Client 9 a less compelling film. It's unfair to describe Client 9 as "inconsequential" but, when compared to some of the other projects in which the director has been involved, it exhibits less lofty goals. It is a fascinating look at a golden boy's fall from grace, but there's too much familiarity in the scandal for it to be truly remarkable.

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