The United States may claim comparative bragging rights on a regular basis 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 Elliot Spitzer.
The latest is a series of documentaries by eminent muckraker maven 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 just 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, and we’re not talking that morning cup of java. Rather, the ‘angel and animal hybrid’ that defines humankind. Though Spitzer himself, who speaks on camera frequently without being challenged, is more fond of grandiosity in characterizing his fall from grace, as a Greek mythology style target assassination on the gods. All of which tends to take that half and half notion to an entirely different level, in the realm of half truths.
And in the midst of which the film’s professed theme and the title itself, Client 9 – Spitzer’s brothel moniker – appears to be nearly entirely forgotten. And replaced by what seems like Spitzer’s impeachment trial – and implied exoneration – that never was, for lack of support among his politician colleagues.
What subsequently 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 on camera over his downfall. Along with the odd oxymoron label that pegged him as the ‘law and order liberal.’ While the publicly straitlaced regulation-obsessed figure that defined Spitzer, and his contrasting 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 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 for her vocation of choice. And an actress role playing one of Spitzer’s secret stash of apparently numerous call girls – no, not that one – because she doesn’t want her face – only her unchallenged claims, publicized.
But what the documentary mostly lacks as a balanced portrait, is another dark side that can be attributed to Spitzer, information gleaned by my astute critic colleague Louis Proyect – who would seem to qualify as 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 receiving big financial campaign contributions from the real estate industry, including a Donald Trump endorsement. And resulting in tenant advocate complaints at the time, that Spitzer wouldn’t take a position in defense of rent control in a ‘landlord town’ notorious for obscenely gouged rents.
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 own family among them as well.
2 1/2 stars