Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer Review

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer film still


Alex Gibney has a knack for telling great stories in a lucid fashion, and this story’s a good 'un.

It begins as a New York story, but by the time the curtain closes on Alex Gibney’s Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, it has morphed into a twenty-first-century moral fable.

In 2008, Eliot Spitzer was the self-proclaimed ‘Sheriff of Wall Street’ who took on the financial interests and entrenched politics of New York City. He looked destined to become the first Jewish President of the United States.

Then it all went wrong. Spitzer was ensnared in a Federal investigation into prostitution. An affidavit was released, his identity was uncovered and his political career was over.

Those are the facts, but Gibney’s slick documentary offers us the story. It’s the tale of a pugnacious kid from the Bronx who put his nose in some powerful people’s business and wasn’t afraid of getting it broken. Spitzer made enemies, and Gibney has duly assembled a rogue’s gallery to crow at his camera. Home Depot founder Ken Langone recalls how he heard Spitzer claim he was going to put a spike through his heart. "Make sure it’s steel,"replied Langone "'cos wood’ll break."

Worshipped by ordinary New Yorkers and hated by the elite, Spitzer was nothing if not a polarising figure. But it’s clear where Gibney’s sympathies lie – the director of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is no fan of Wall Street. The picture that emerges is of a renegade white knight battling the forces of evil.

But it’s not that simple. After Wall Street, Spitzer turned his attention to Albany, seat of New York’s notoriously corrupt state politics. By this time, he was beginning to believe his own hype, making yet more enemies through a mixture of idealism, impatience and hubris. One of them was Joe Bruno, a long-time Republican senator who makes the Wall Street sharks look like goldfish.

Gibney’s doc coyly suggests that a coalition of Bruno, Langone and political fixer Roger Stone learned of Spitzer’s liaisons after having him followed by a private eye. Along with US Attorney General Michael Garcia, Gibney insinuates that they leaned on the Feds to take the extraordinary measure of pursuing a case against Spitzer himself.

But as Gibney refashions his film into a kind of All the Governor’s Men, what he gains in dramatic texture he loses in perspective. Spitzer is presented as a flawed hero – part animal, part angel – but he’s never truly put to the test. The crux of the film passes in 30 seconds of screen time. With so much to lose, why did he sleep with prostitutes? "I don’t think I know," is all Spitzer can say.

Client 9, then, is very much a documentary of its time – a liberal polemic with an eye for conspiracy fuelled by cynicism and distrust. At one point, Spitzer recalls a game of Monopoly he played as a young boy. His father foreclosed on him to teach the kid a lesson. "I wanted to be bailed out!" he recalls. Finally, someone has done the job.

comments powered by Disqus