Case Number 20604: Small Claims Court

CLIENT 9: THE RISE AND FALL OF ELIOT SPITZER (BLU-RAY)

Magnolia Pictures // 2010 // 118 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // January 31st, 2011

The Charge

You don't know the real story.

The Case

Eliot Spitzer's rise was through his position as attorney general of New York. In that role, he was known as the "Sheriff of Wall Street," taking on corporations like AIG and Bank of America. He was aggressive, and confrontational, and the only thing he seemed to love more than going after malfeasants was reporting to the public on efforts -- modesty was not one of Spitzer's more obvious traits. While not every action "took," he had a tremendous success rate going after some of the most powerful financial institutions.

Needless to say, he made some very powerful enemies.

His ascent to the governorship was a foregone conclusion even before he stated his intentions to run -- a full two years before the election. Spitzer won handily against a little-known Republican challenger, and billing himself as a "steamroller," set out to battle the close-knit, often corrupt power structure in Albany.

Needless to say, he made another set of powerful enemies, many of these the people who would normally have been his allies in the Democratic party.

Then, just over a year after he took office, it was over. Spitzer was brought down by a scandal so tawdry and inane, it almost defies credibility. Eliot Spitzer was discovered to be Client 9, a regular at an elite escort service. He wasn't found out because of a chatty sex worker or a National Enquirer reporter who was in the right place at the right time, but because of the sloppy way the governor paid for services rendered and an unusually intensive federal investigation into the dealings of the service.

The scandal actually made Spitzer more famous than he'd ever been. The story of the fall of a self-righteous, powerful person, the mix of stupidity and salaciousness -- particularly the detail that Spitzer left his black dress socks on during the encounter -- spawned reams of print and Web articles and opinions, making Spitzer something of a national joke. Certainly, the state of New York was the worse for it, the governorship left to Spitzer's less-than qualified lieutenant, David Patterson.

While people were shocked, not everyone was sorry to see him go.

"It is, to a certain extent, a very classic tale, perhaps, of an individual who, from the exterior, appears to have been captured by hubris; a sense of standing for virtues and, I think, working very hard to articulate toward establishing rules and boundaries, but then, himself, slipping and falling."
-- Spitzer on Spitzer

Directed by Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side), Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer doesn't excuse, redeem, or rehabilitate Spitzer; the ex-governor did what he did. But the film does suggest that some of Spitzer's enemies might have been doing more than merely watching from the sidelines.

Gibney's film eschews the titillating soap operatics of the story and instead, becomes a compelling tale of political intrigue with an unresolved central mystery and a larger context: just months after Spitzer's comeuppance, thanks to the work of a Bush administration attorney general -- along with some conveniently leaked information to the media -- these same Wall Streeters who were uncorking champagne during his resignation speech were responsible for the near-collapse of the U.S. economy.

It's a complex story, and Gibney tells it with admirable clarity; you don't have to know much about the financial industry, New York politics, or the sex industry to appreciate this film. Gibney has an extensive interview with Spitzer that provides a framework for the film, and he gathers together many of the key players, including pimps and prostitutes; lawyers who worked with Spitzer; a whistleblower describing a mutual funds scam by Bank of America; a number of people who ran afoul of Spitzer, including tough talking former New York Republican Senator Joe Bruno, former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg, former Goldman Sachs CEO John Whitehead, and former head of the New York Stock Exchange Ken Langone. While these people clearly despise Spitzer -- Bruno still looks like he wants to clock the guy -- it's Langone who most passionately and unapologetically detests him.

"I'd like to think I'm not a vindictive person, and a basic tenet of my faith is forgiveness. The most harm that Eliot Spitzer has done to me is I am defying my faith. I can't forgive him."
-- Ken Langone

Watching Langone seethe, quite personally, about his contempt for Spitzer and his unabashed glee at the governor's downfall, you can't help but be reminded the take down of Orson Welles' self-righteous "Citizen" Charles Foster Kane by corrupt old-school pol Boss Gettys. Many of those interviewed share Langone's flair for the dramatic, except Spitzer himself, who is contemplative and composed throughout.

Magnolia has done a good job on this disc. Picture and audio are solid, though the clip-and-interview heavy film doesn't really lend itself to a remarkable visual or sonic display. For supplements, we get a commentary by the director, some extended interviews, and deleted scenes. We also get a brief interview with the director as well as a short featurette that, together, offer up a Cliffs Notes version of the film.

The Verdict

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer is a fascinating political melodrama, the kind of stuff you really couldn't make up. Alex Gibney's film is a terrific telling of the tale. Highly recommended.

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2011 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Featurette
* Interviews
* Trailer

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1638362/combined