On this election night, with millions of Americans registering their anger over the continued flatlining of the American economy, it seems fit to me to consider a movie that takes as its subject that years of abuse that got us to this point: Inside Job, a documentary made by Charles Ferguson, and inspired by a whole hell of a lot of anger. Not the aimless, helpless, wondering anger of somebody who knows that they are suffering but doesn't know why, somebody who righteously blames Them for all of the problems; but the steel-cold anger of somebody who in fact knows exactly why we are suffering and exactly who is to blame for it, and knows equally well that there isn't much of anything we can do about it.

This story of the way that America's insatiable lust for money and power has ended in the worst global financial collapse since the 1930s starts, obviously, in Iceland. Here we learn how, around the year 2000, that country was as close to paradise as you could find in the world (one of the talking heads claims that it was an "end-of-history" sort of place"): virtually non-existent unemployment, plenty of health care, everybody owned nice things. Then one day, speculation fever hit the Icelandic banks, which proceeded to borrow and re-invest an amount of money ten times the gross domestic product of Iceland itself. When the American markets that Iceland's money was relying on went to hell in late 2008, it became something less of an end-of-history paradise. To put it lightly.

It's a cunning rhetorical strategy that Ferguson whips out here: playing his entire movie in advance in one small case study, and looking outside of the United States to find that study. In so doing, he immediately demonstrates just how broad of a view he intends to take with his film, and though the action only rarely leaves the U.S. - rarely leaves the power enclaves of the East Coast, for that matter - Inside Job makes good on its promise to consider the effects of the global financial meltdown to their smallest tendril.

Of course, this is a miserable film, peppered with a few laughs of the very bitterest sort. And, in its fashion, it says very little: nothing Ferguson presents is strictly speaking news, though plenty of it has been hiding in plain sight. The merit of the film, as is so often the case with these talking-head documentaries on the politics of recent history (as it was, for example the merit of Ferguson's only previous film, the Iraq film No End in Sight) is encyclopedic: it gathers together in one place all the information that the viewer probably already knew (Inside Job also shares the primary flaw of political documentaries: it assumes you agree with every word it says and has literally no plan for convincing other people, on the rare chance that they end up watching it), some that the viewer probably didn't know but isn't inherently informative - like the Iceland material, for me at least - with a scattering of forgotten or never-learned facts; its value as a film, in other words, is to conveniently bring together a whole lot of pre-existing data and place it into one easily-digestible narrative. Which is a significant value, and I hope I'm not sounding snitty about it.

Thus, we return to the more-or-less beginning of our current woes, the deregulation mania that started up under the Reagan administration; gloss over the first Bush's four years to spend some time hurling bipartisan stones at Clinton and his crew (well-deserved stones, at that), and then come to ground in the early '00s, when the housing bubble that replaced the internet bubble was just starting to expand. From here, Ferguson tells the tale of so many well-known and lesser-known rogues, like Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, whose arch-Randianism led him to turn a blind eye to all sorts of financial mischief in the name of the freemarket, and the CEOs of the country's biggest investment banks who acted like nothing so much as robber barons when given that free hand, down to the academics who provided the intellectual cover for the thievery and often see no ethical problem with, on the one hand, splashing about in money from the financial sector while, on the other, teaching college students how finance works. The movie comes right up the present, recounting in quick words events that happened less than a month before its Cannes premiere, and cutting no slack for the weak response of the Obama administration, nor for his cheerful empowerment of former Clintonites like Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner to make exactly the same mistakes over again.

All of this is told in the form of a lot of talking heads: grim people like IMF Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, miserably pessimistic people like Greenlining Institute Director Robert Gnaizda, evasive and slippery people like Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard (who gave Ferguson a gift few documentarians ever get, when he followed up the snotty reminder "You've got three minutes" with the adolescent snarl, "Take your best shot"). Some of the most important people in the discussion, however, are seen only in stock footage, and one of the filmmaker's greatest tools as the film progresses is the faux-innocent cut from one interview subject making some claim about, e.g. Larry Summers, to a black screen with text stating that Larry Summers would not speak to the filmmaker. The filmmaker retaliates by making these very same refusals a character in the film, of a sort; a repeated punchline that keeps getting more angry and nasty every time he says it.

That is, right there, one of the film's greatest problems: it's edited much too coyly in places, going for the "gotcha!" rather than the reasoned counter-argument. But then, Inside Job is not coming from a place of quiet reason, but from rage against the men, and a tiny handful for women, who created the idea of an economy based on shuffling money from here to there, never pausing to reflect that if one tiny thing went wrong, the whole house of cards would turn into... Christ, pick up any newspaper to see what it turned into.

So no, Inside Job is not a triumph of aesthetics; not even the plethora of eager flash-animated graphs and title cards can change that (and not all of those graphs are equally useful in dealing with the intensely arcane material that the film throws at you: even when all we have to know about derivatives, for example, is that they are evil, the fact remains that they're too fearfully intricate and inexplicable to be dealt with as fast as Ferguson does). Nor can Matt Damon's narration, marred as it is by the fact that Matt Damon is an incredibly famous movie star. It's a lecture, though an earnest and emotional and terrifying lecture. And one without a neat conclusion or call to arms in the manner of the recent Waiting for "Superman": despite an insultingly feeble closing monologue full of apple pie and flags on Main Street, the movie is clearly of the opinion that we're fucked and getting more fucked all the time. Which is not a very enlightening attitude, but- well, everything the movie says is public record, y'know? There isn't one demonstrably false link in the argument that the only people in a position to fix things are the only people profiting from the implosion of American capitalism. It's a film made by a frustrated person, designed to make the rest of us angry enough to do something about it. As I am perpetually angry about everything, I can't call myself a proper test subject, but to judge from the conversations I heard in the lobby after the film, I'd say it was a smashing success.