The financial disasters of recent years have some produced excellent documentaries including the Oscar-winning “Inside Job” and “Client 9.”
The other night I watched an advance screener of another gripping Wall Street doc in the pipeline — “Confidence Game” — which zeroes in on the final week in the life of Bear Stearns which was one of the top five investment banks in the country before it imploded in the spring of 2008.
The collapse and fire sale of the firm was the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” for the larger disasters of that fall, which resulted in the federal government agreeing to the biggest corporate welfare program in the history of the United States.
The collapse was triggered by the subprime mortgage quagmire — and housing bust — that Bear Stearns played a huge role in. The firm helped to create the crazy formulas that made giving mortgages to totally unqualified home buyers a hugely profitable Wall Street “product” — for a while.
“Confidence Game” takes us through a day-by-day chronology of the final week, with many detours into the back story of the disaster.
Norwalk filmmaker Nick Verbitsky makes complicated financial transactions lucid thanks to a way above average collection of talking heads that includes Bryan Burrough of Vanity Fair and Adam Sorkin of The New York Times.
“Confidence Game” includes a devastating critique of the financial ratings agencies that feels up-to-the-minute in light of the Standard & Poors downgrading of the U.S. credit rating a few weeks ago (the trigger for the current stock market roller coaster ride). Verbitsky shows us how Moody’s and S&P were in bed with the firms whose products they were rating — giving high scores to some of the investment concoctions at the heart of the housing market disaster.
(It seems clear now that the recent S&P report is at least partially the company’s revenge on its government critics.)
Verbitsky and his contributors are also scathing on CNBC’s coverage of Bear Stearns. According to the film, the cable network went from puffery that contributed to the disaster to a last-minute turnaround in which their reporting of rumors sped the firm’s demise.
The film is much more than an account of events of three years ago because of the way that “Confidence Game” makes it clear that Wall Street has ADD when it comes to past disasters and is always looking for a new quick score (no matter how many of its small potato “clients” might suffer).
Near the end one of the experts boils the Street’s philosophy down to “Tails they win, heads you lose.”
Verbitsky tells me he will be touring business and law schools with the film this fall and hopes to find a distributor by year’s end. “Confidence Game” deserves to be widely seen.
You can find more material on the movie and updates on its screening schedule on the “Confidence Game The Movie” Facebook page.