Was Eliot Spitzer a crusader for the common man against the seemingly limitless greed of corporate America, or was he an opportunistic egomaniac motivated by self-interests? More interestingly, is it possible to be both at the same time? These are the key questions raised by this new documentary.
Full disclosure -- I was an employee of AIG working in their New York home office at the time that Spitzer, then the state’s Attorney General, first leveled accusations of criminal activity at the insurance giant and, more specifically, it’s long-time CEO and Chairman Maurice ‘Hank’ Greenberg. On the inside looking out, it struck me that Spitzer was simply trying to raise his public profile in a bid to secure the governorship and going after big business was the easiest way to get voters on his side. The fact that he ultimately never brought any charges whatsoever against the company or Greenberg seemed to bear this out. But the film makes a rather strong case that it was (Republican) federal prosecutors who stepped in and tied the hands of Spitzer and his team.
In fact, the film’s greatest strength is its accumulation of shitty behavior on the part of everyone involved to the point where you are left rooting for Spitzer as, perhaps, the least big asshole in this particular room. The filmmakers trot out a veritable Teddy Bear’s Picnic of wizened old money faces: disgraced N.Y. State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, investment banker Kenneth Langone, political fixer Roger Stone, the aforementioned Hammerin’ Hank. Each is more despicable than the next. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Spitzer likeable but compared to this rogue’s gallery he comes off as just some poor schlub who got caught cheating on his wife and was punished all out of proportion with the sin committed.
As compellingly awful as each of these talking heads are, director Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Casino Jack and the United States of Money) would have been better off just letting them pontificate for his camera. Instead he frequently cuts to basic-cable style reenactments and clichéd shots of rainy city streets in an effort to establish mood and/or suspense. They’re unnecessary and take time away from the compelling parade of amoral conduct he’s put together. At a time when it's much easier (and healthier) to be amused rather than disgusted by the behavior of public figures, Client 9 still manages to rankle. Mission accomplished.