The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Written by Robert Patrick
George Fox aka Client-9 aka Eliot Spitzer has more pseudonyms than a cold war spy. These politicians, day traders and wall street moguls are so colorful they make a rainbow look monochrome. I think of comic-book characters like Two-Face and Kingpin, snickering and gallivanting around these crosshatched and seedy looking cities, wearing pinstriped suits that look like barcodes made out of fabric. We all are used to the idea of crooked politics, wily CEOs and big business ruffians. Director Alex Gibney knows about these hooligans, and loves to use his camera to highlight them. He knows that these money-makers are dirty palmed bullies that hit each other with the sound of a reverberating snare drum. Gibney is fascinated with big business blunders and unethical dealings in modern America. The director has given us “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” and, this year alone, “Casino Jack” and “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer”. You can tell Gibney has fun with his material; contemporary rock music crawls over the proceedings, while he often frames his subjects with rattling sound effects and kinetic editing. Gibney is a hybrid of Mathew Brady and Melvin Purvis; a sort of neo-detective and grim photographer. His work isn’t always impermeable to question, but he gets away with a lot of colorfulness without coming off as a bombastic rabble-rouser (Michael Moore, if you will).
“Client 9” (not to be confused with “Session 9”, “Nine”, or “9”) is the informal moniker used by an escort service to hide Eliot Spitzer’s identity when he was the governor of New York. The “Sheriff of Wall Street”, as he was called by magnates everywhere, pierced the hull of his own political ship by seeing high price prostitutes across state lines. Gibney’s entertaining little doc plays like a History Channel special with more bells and whistles attached to its heels. The film plays fast and loose with its material while remaining relatively grounded enough to hold documentary purists at bay. Still, amongst the politicians and big businessmen interviewed, there is an actress hired at one point, to read the real life exposition of a call girl who had refused to be on screen, that seemed a little awkward and forced; the assimilation of the actress wasn’t even noted, when she first arrived in the film, which, to me, seemed conspicuously disingenuous. No matter. “Client 9” isn’t always specious, thankfully, and often has testimonies from real players in the Spitzer case that are more animated than a panel of illustrators at Comic-Con (Republican Roger Stone actually has a tattoo of Richard Nixon across his back. Class incarnate, is what I say). Many of Spitzer’s enemies are blatantly outlandish in their unbridled hate for the former Governor. Whenever they are on camera they are quote generators. One foe on Wall Street goes as far as to say that he hopes Spitzer’s “personal hell” is especially hot. Gibney eats this up, of course, and keeps the muck raking from Spitzer’s enemies prominent in the documentary’s narrative.
Gibney is not impartial to the thought of backing up Spitzer. “Client 9” is essentially an exercise in forgiveness and emotional bloodletting. Spitzer gets a lot of face time. So much so that he often flashes a regretful smile and profusely apologizes. Some may call this journalistic piffle, and it very may well be, but Gibney hurdles over this detrimental stance by entertaining the audience with amusing factoids about the Emperors Club escort service.
“Client 9” isn’t the most professionally built documentary – it’s pretty flippant for all of the drama – but it’s guiltily fun for how serious the subject matter is. With that being said, Gibney does his homework, so don’t think it’s a sloppy dossier with missing files – the movie is perfectly worth seeing; and much better than “Casino Jack”, a doc that Gibney released earlier in the year.
4 out of 5 possible jewels