The challenge of Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, is that it's really several stories in one: (1) the story of the unchecked corruption of the financial industry and how Eliot Spitzer, as New York attorney general and then governor, tried to rein it in, (2) the story of a hot-tempered New York attorney general and governor foolish enough to hire prostitutes while building a reputation as a strict law-and-order politician, and (3) the story of massive moral hypocrisy, led by a pack of crooks smugly shaking their heads in disdain of Spitzer's dirty deeds while scarcely hiding their own. Some of those guys are so shameless and arrogant that they participated in this film to gloat.
The last point is especially interesting. It may have been irony more than anything else that brought down Eliot Spitzer, for whom sexual indiscretions with hookers was especially embarrassing given his crusade against institutional corruption. But we can agree that high-priced call girls are less offensive than torpedoing the global economy … right? One of the interview subjects is Hank Greenberg, who grumbles at Spitzer's lack of character, even though he was so corrupt as the head of AIG that it was his own board of directors, not Eliot Spitzer, that gave him the boot; he conspired to cook the books at his company to make it look $500 million richer than it really was (for which several were convicted, but not him), and we're told he was the architect of some of the schemes that brought the economy to its knees, but he argues that if he hadn't been removed from AIG, the economy wouldn't have collapsed. You see, it's all Spitzer's fault – if he would only have left the fox in charge, the hen house would have been fine.
At long last, has he no sense of decency?
The director of the film is Alex Gibney, who has been busy lately. He also directed another 2010 release, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, which was similar in how it showed a single man brought down by malfeasance while an entire infrastructure of greed and corruption remains in place, undiminished. In Spitzer's case, Gibney faces the added challenge of defending the man – the film has a clear pro-Spitzer slant – while also holding him accountable for his behavior. It was a spectacular act of hubris to make such powerful enemies while providing them exactly the ammunition they needed to not only take him down, but invalidate his entire political career.
Spitzer's personality is also of concern; that he was belligerent, at times downright hostile and unlikable, is not disputed here, and the director does well to show his subject warts and all, at times leaving us to wonder if there's anyone left to root for. In the end we come away with the sense that Spitzer didn't play well with others, and was a bulldog in instances when it would have been wiser to be more politic, but he mostly saved his contempt for the very corrupt. Another interview subject, former New York State Senator Joe Bruno, was convicted on charges of corruption after feigning outrage over Spitzer leaking the details of that corruption. Quite a bastion of political ethics, that one.
But Spitzer's crimes were – literally – sexier than the crimes of Hank Greenberg and Joe Bruno. They sold better on the front pages of newspapers. That's our problem in America: we only care about the juicy stories, while Wall Street executives – who, we're told, were some of the biggest patrons of the escort services Spitzer was busted for – set about the boring and confusing work of robbing us blind. Champagne flowed on Wall Street when Spitzer was brought down. They won that day. Who lost? Spitzer, his wife and children, and maybe all the rest of us too.
Watch a trailer for the movie here: