Disinformation Company // 2009 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // April 8th, 2010
Danny Schechter dissects Wall Street fraud.
Disinformation Company releases several straight-to-DVD documentaries each year and the vast majority of them are forgettable. They're usually the worst kind of leftist agit-prop that preach to the converted but don't work as actual films, since they never really need to. All they need to do is just throw in some boilerplate buzzwords and catchphrases (i.e. "corporatization," "disenfranchisement of minorities") and the company's audience will buy them anyways. You'd be forgiven for thinking that Plunder would be yet another tedious and preachy harangue about the evils of capitalism/conservatism/Republicanism/Fox News Channel. Surprisingly, it's actually a reasonably thoughtful analysis of the 2008 economic crash. While filmmaker Danny Schechter (In Debt We Trust) does occasionally fall prey to some of Disinformation's gimmicks, this is a more sober and informative film than the company usually issues.
Schechter states that he's interested in examining this story from a criminal aspect, but don't worry-despite the cover art, he doesn't indulge in cheap Michael Moore-esque stunts like using yellow crime tape. Instead, he digs through financial records to examine different types of financial chicanery. He and a former employee of Bear Sterns, for instance, demonstrate using carefully compiled trading statistics, how Bear Sterns' stock price was carefully manipulated by short sellers who were betting that the company would fail and deliberately floated false rumors that it was doing so. He examines how exactly banks sold off their interests in subprime mortgages that were probably never going to be paid off by bundling them together into so-called "derivatives" that theoretically spread the risk around and made it infinitesimal, though sadly, not non-existent. He also discusses how AIG insured every single of these derivatives against default, resulting in a promise to pay off a sum greater than the entire GDP of every country in the industrial world combined. These sections, accompanied by interviews with Wall St. employees both current and former, are a pleasure to watch and easy to understand. For all the bloviating about the economic scandal that occurred in the 24-hour news networks, this appears to be the first time that people who were actually there tell what happened in their own words. The interview footage that Schechter compiled with cocky hedge fund managers in 2007, the year before the crash, is especially valuable in demonstrating that people who are phenomenally well-educated aren't necessarily smart.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Disinformation Co. release without some forced populist padding. It wasn't really necessary to interview some random artist who paints pictures of banking and government figures involved in the crash and then displays them on the street for people to write on. This section is interminable and wastes valuable time that could have gone into explaining the housing boom in more depth. Similarly, it's hard not to cringe when Schechter, in a fit of liberal outrage, proclaims that the marketing of subprime mortgages to low-income consumers was a "deliberate attempt to disenfranchise minorities, especially blacks and Latinos." Or, more probably, it was just a series of shortsighted decisions made by bankers more interested in exceeding monthly sale quotas and thus padding their paychecks without any consideration taken for the long-term interests of their companies or, ultimately, the nation at large. Conspiracy theories may appeal to some, but most of the time bad decisions can be explained by simple rank stupidity. Despite these lapses, though, Plunder is, for the most part, not bad at all.
Technically, the disc is mostly solid. Once again, Disinformation Co. apparently considers quality control an evil right-wing plot, since like many other of the company's discs this one had a hard time playing in virtually every DVD player this reviewer tried it out on. If you can get it to work, though, the anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer looks pretty sharp. Many of the archival news clips appear to be taken from YouTube, a way to get relevant footage cheap that does result in admittedly degraded visual quality, but the non-digital interviews look fine. The stereo transfer is also very good. The extras, however, are a little thin. Schechter gives a brief statement (9:05) about how and why he made the film that's a good introduction. There are also two clips of additional footage, one on liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith (8:13) and the other on sex addiction on Wall Street (6:13). The Galbraith clip is interesting but the sex addiction one is irrelevant and pointless. Why not include more information that fleshes out some of the more complex topics (i.e. how investment bonds are rated)? With better-chosen extras, this DVD could have been a real must-have.
Nonetheless, despite its flaws, Plunder is actually worth a look for anyone curious about the causes of the '08 meltdown. Mostly free of the ideological excesses that mar other DVDs of its ilk, this one actually digs deeper and tells the story clearly and coherently. Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Disinformation Company
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Director's Statement
* Bonus Footage
* Official Site