Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 2010. A&E IndieFilms, Jigsaw Productions, Wider Film Projects. Screenplay by Alex Gibney. Cinematography by Maryse Alberti. Produced by Maiken Baird, Alex Gibney, Jedd Wider, Todd Wider. Music by Peter Nashel. Film Editing by Alison Amron, Plummy Tucker. Dorian Awards 2010. Toronto International Film Festival 2010.
A successful attorney from a notable, moneyed family, handsome and intelligent Eliot Spitzer climbed the ladder of success to Attorney General before becoming the governor of New York, easily making friends with his sensible attitude towards destroying Wall Street’s greed while just as easily making enemies for the same reason. A career that would have led to America’s first Jewish president was derailed, however, when the news broke that Spitzer was a primary client of a prostitution ring that was being taken down by the authorities, one whose high class call girls charged $1000 an hour (more to travel). Alex Gibney, the best person to assemble a look into anyone’s life, turns his camera on Spitzer’s experience to find more than just headlines: the man was not wrongly accused, but is there a reason why a sex scandal, which hasn’t always ruined the careers of other politicians (not even in the case of Clinton, depending on who you ask), had so destructive an effect on his? Gibney is wonderfully sly at casting glimpses on the thug-like personalities of financial bears who did not like Spitzer acting like the sherriff who came to clean up a corrupt town; years later, when the economy collapsed, it’s worth regretting that we let a little thing like him spending thousands of dollars on hookers get in the way of letting him do his job. Delicious as so many of these situations are, the film is not as interesting an expose on its subject as many of Gibney’s other works, mainly because the man himself doesn’t make for as compelling a subject as Lance Armstrong would later on: Spitzer’s feelings about his choices are calm and well worked out, the irony of his fighting exploitation while being something of an exploiter is not brought up by him or suggested by the filmmaker. More fascinating than the main subject is the investigation into the lives of the girls, with an emphasis on worldly, healthy prostitutes who, resent being portrayed as victims of social injustice. The young woman who was identified as his favourite, and who her parlayed her notoriety into a career in show business, is revealed as having never been a regular, while the woman who was actually his favourite is portrayed by an actress enacting her interview with Gibney as she did not want to appear on screen (which the actress does admirably well). Between her testimony, the more than fascinating personality of Cecil Suwal (former proprietress of the service Spitzer favoured) and Gibney’s ability to make a film with a pulse and steady beat no matter what the subject, the film is well worth watching; it’s just not as thick an experience as The Armstrong Lie or, God forbid, his masterpiece Taxi To The Dark Side.