December 5, 2010 -- Everybody who pays any attention to the news has heard of the spectacular fall from power of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, but you probably haven't heard who was behind the forces that brought him low. This documentary film spins a fascinating tale of high-stakes political and economic power at the highest levels of the federal government and on the highest thrones of Wall Street. This tale includes an ex-boxer politician in Albany, high-priced hookers, the FBI and people with connections to the highest levels of the Republican Party, including Fox News.
The film covers Spitzer's rise to power and his spectacular fall. It covers his strength as a prosecutor, his Wall Street prosecutions as New York State Attorney General, his prosecution-forced reforms, and his failings as a person. It shows his intelligence and commitment to social and economic reform. It shows how ruthlessly efficient his office was in prosecuting crimes and forcing reform, doing in months what it took others years to do. It also shows Spitzer's quick temper, his vindictiveness, his grudges, his arrogance and his lack of people skills when it comes to the art of deal-making and political compromise. It appears Spitzer was much better at dealing with people when he was dealing from a position of power. He made a lot of enemies, probably more than he needed to.
One of the more interesting bits in the film is the section on the business of the reforms Spitzer forced on Wall Street investment banks. His attempted prosecution of AIG, the huge insurer whose collapse would later almost bring down the world's economy, is a key item in the movie. People in the film speculate about what would have happened if Spitzer hadn't forced Maurice 'Hank' Greenberg to resign from AIG years before the company went broke. Greenberg and his friends, of course, say AIG would have been fine if Greenberg had stayed on to run it. What the film doesn't speculate upon is what would have happened if Spitzer had prosecuted Greenberg. Instead, he backed off this case due to a request to do so from the Bush Administration's U.S. District Attorney Michael J. Garcia, who told Spitzer this was a federal case he was getting himself involved in. According to the movie, Garcia did not, in fact, pursue a case against Greenberg, but did later pursue a prostitution case involving Spitzer under the Mann Act.
The fact that Garcia declined to follow up on a case that might possibly have headed off worldwide economic disaster, but did choose to spend a lot of his department's resources on a small prostitution ring seems like an odd set of priorities for a federal prosecutor. It makes a lot more sense if the prosecution was politically motivated to target Spitzer, a leading Democrat. No proof is offered that it was, but there is plenty of evidence shown in the film to support that theory. This makes the film a lot more interesting than if it was just about Eliot Spitzer himself and his career path.
In addition to a lot of talking heads, file footage, file recordings and other materials in the film, there is also a performance by an actress, Wrenn Schmidt, who plays the part of Angelina, the prostitute favored by Spitzer. Schmidt's performance includes reading from a transcript provided by the real Angelina, who refused to appear in the film, but allowed her words to be read by an actress. This is an unusual feature in a documentary, but the film is very upfront about this departure from the usual interview format and it works as such. Others listed in the film credits are Kim Allen as a street singer and Laura Somma as a woman on a train. One of the impressive things about the film is the number of big-time Wall Street heavyweights in the film like Greenberg, billionaire Dick Langone and John C. Whitehead, former Deputy Secretary of State and chairman of Goldman Sachs, to appear on camera. These are the kind of people who don't often appear in movies. Greenberg says on camera his AIG stock is virtually worthless, only worth a measly $100 million. Some kinda high roller, that guy. A lot of people would like to have a measly $100 million in stock to complain about.
Another interesting part of the film is part about the aftermath of Spitzer's fall. Ashley Dupre, the prostitute who had a one-night stand with Spitzer, has made a career out of the scandal, with her picture on the cover of Playboy, appearances on Fox News whenever Spitzer tries to make a political comeback, and a job at the New York Post in a high-profile part of NewsCorp CEO Rupert Murdoch's media empire as a newspaper advice columnist. Murdoch's empire includes Fox News of course, which operates as an arm of the Tea Party and the Republican Party. Angelina, the prostitute that Spitzer liked best, is now a day trader in the stock market. Cecil Suwal, co-owner of the escort service used by Spitzer, is bright and bubbly in the film, despite having served several months in a federal prison. Maybe she still has some of that vast fortune she accumulated from her worldwide call girl service. Although the film's narrator says Suwal had a “small prostitution ring” how small could it be when she admits she had $1 million in cash in a wall safe when she was arrested?
This film raises a lot more questions than it answers, but it is a good place to start looking at the strange case of Eliot Spitzer. In addition to a lot of regular talking heads, there are some very interesting characters, like political operative Roger Stone, who has a tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back, is a swinger and likes to market himself as a political agent with James Bond-style flair, and former boxer Joe Bruno, a top Republican in Albany and political tough guy. This film rates an A.
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