Alex Gibney is one of the best documentary filmmakers around. His films consistently provide insightful information, fascinating truths and open the eyes of many. His most recent film, Client 9: The Rise And Fall Of Eliot Spitzer, focuses on, well, the rise and fall of Eliot Spitzer, New York’s former governor and at one point, possible Presidential candidate. At his height, Spitzer was living the life most politicians dream of. He had it all. Then, in March 2008 The New York Times linked Spitzer to a prostitution ring that was currently under investigation. Of course, this led to his eventual downfall since you can’t really recover from something like that, especially not as the Governor of New York.
Gibney’s film explores both sides of Spitzer’s life, in a mostly fair and unbiased way. As he documents Spitzer’s rise to power, he takes us through the events that made Spitzer such a hero to many. We watch as he takes on Wall Street, wiping out the corruption by picking fights with crooked corporate giants, including Richard Grasso, Maurice Greenberg, Ken Lancone and more. As he builds his impressive career as New York Attorney General, he eventually becomes Governor. It is at this point that we’re introduced to names like Joe Bruno and Roger Stone. And then, as expected, Gibney focuses on the whole prostitution scandal.
Coming into the film, I thought there would be a much heavier focus on the whole scandal but Gibney never spends too much time on it and doesn’t really make a big deal about the event. In fact, the majority of the film sees Spitzer taking on the corporate giants on Wall Street and adjusting to his new role as Governor. The prostitution scandal is looked at but it’s not the centrepiece, which is good since there is so much more to Spitzer’s life. Gibney knows that the public is most familiar with the scandal so he decides to focus on Spitzer as the Attorney General and as the Governor.
Spitzer made a lot of enemies along the way, and they’re all giddy with glee as they speak their mind in the film, dancing on Spitzer’s grave with the utmost happiness, ready to take credit for his downfall. Spitzer himself is very reserved during the interviews in the film, speaking in carefully calculated statements, never saying more than he should. Mostly evasive towards questions, he acknowledges his rights and wrongs but rarely sways from what is surely a well prepared script. He’s also quick to never pass off the blame. When asked the following, “Ken Langone and Hank Greenberg are powerful enemies. Did it ever concern you that they might have played a role in your downfall?” Spitzer states, “It probably didn’t concern me enough,” but quickly remembers who the fault really lies with and tells us, “I brought myself down.” At another point in the film he blatantly states “I did what I did, and shame on me.” Despite all this, we as the audience never get a sense as to why he did what he did, which is what so many of us wonder.
Gibney often suggests that Spitzer may of been the target of a political hit, which could have come from his numerous enemies. It’s an interesting idea and one that would make sense given the circumstances. He fills the film with intrigue and mystery, re-igniting a desire in audiences to look into a situation that we already thought we’ve heard everything about. Gibney points out a number of oddities in the case and while it’s hard to know exactly who is telling the truth here and what kind of biases are at play, it’s certainly interesting to contemplate. Spitzer never takes either side though, he simply tells it like it is, “my view is I brought myself down,” he says. Whether there is enough evidence presented here to take to heart what Gibney is suggesting is questionable, but it does provide for some good talking points.
In the end, it’s a tragic tale. One that shows such a promising political star who despite great achievements will always be remembered as ‘Client 9’. Those unfamiliar with the situation are looked after as Gibney shows us the events from a newcomer’s perspective. He doesn’t assume we know it all. He explains everything in a simple and easy to understand way. People will call Gibney a Spitzer sympathizer, and I can see why, but I really think the film is fair in its portrayal of the once famed politician. By the end I was torn, do I root for him or against him? Sure, by presenting the corporate hit idea Gibney sort of shows where his allegiance lies but in no way does the film portray Spitzer as a saint. Client 9: The Rise And Fall Of Eliot Spitzer is a troubling, often fascinating and overall pleasing documentary from Mr. Gibney.
Complementing the film, are some pretty worthwhile special features. There isn’t a ton of material but what’s here is pretty good. Here’s what is included.
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Alex Gibney
- Interview with Writer/Director Alex Gibney
- Extended Interviews
- Deleted Scenes
- HDNet: A Look at Client-9
- Theatrical Trailer
- Also From Magnolia Home Entertainment
Gibney offers an insightful and entertaining commentary with few dead spots. It’s an informative track that sees Gibney commenting on both the issue at hand as well as on the making of the film. In addition to the commentary, Gibney gives a nice 15 minute interview, telling us even more about the film and his opinion on it all. We also get a few more extended interviews with various subjects from the film, which are worth watching if you feel curious to hear more about Mr. Spitzer. It’s all interesting and was probably just cut for pacing reasons. The rest of the materials are throwaway.
Magnolia keeps up the good work when it comes to the audio/video. While nothing spectacular, the transfer gets the job done on all counts. Colors are well balanced, facial detail is strong and skin tones are accurate. The picture is clean and sharp and easy on the eyes. I mean, there isn’t really much benefit to watching a film like this in HD but still, there aren’t too many things wrong with the transfer. When it comes to audio, there isn’t much but for a film of this nature, what we have is good. The main focus is clearly on dialogue and it all sounds crystal clear and reproduced quite well. The songs chosen for the soundtrack also fit it nicely and it all comes together to create a strong audio track. Just don’t expect your speakers to have a workout or anything.
While I can see why some people may not like the film, I think it’s another strong effort from Gibney. Not his best work, but certainly worth watching. It’s an interesting story and as a relative newcomer to it all, I found myself reading more about Spitzer and his career almost immediately after I was done the film. It’s all backed by a strong Blu-Ray and in the end it makes for a solid purchase.
Was Eliot Spitzer a target of a political hit, or was he done in by his own hypocrisy and hubris? I’ll let you be the judge.
Client 9: The Rise And Fall Of Eliot Spitzer plays out like a taut political thriller. It is Interesting, thought provoking and insightful.