There’s a scene in the film Boiler Room that has stuck with me since the first time I saw it 12 years ago. It’s towards the end of the movie and our protagonist, young petty hustler Seth Davis (played by Giovanni Ribisi) figures out the investment firm he works for has been scamming people out of their money to the point of bankruptcy. Because he has a soul, he talks to his colleague, peer, and friend Chris Varick (Vin Diesel) about how his guilty conscience concerning ripping people off is eating at him.
When talking about the situation and why Chris does this to makey money, he tells Seth “Better them than me.” What he means is that it’s better for them to lose money, to lose everything they’ve built their life for, than for him to lose when he can live like a king instead. This one line has always haunted me and reminds me of the message that Sean Patrick Fahey’s documentary Bailout is trying to convey: Everybody is out for themselves and people will go to awful lengths for personal gain.
Bailout interviews people who’ve lost their homes, dreams, and money to people they’ve trusted (banks, the government, unsuspecting loan sharks), and lets people who’ve defended the ones who lost it all discuss how and why the financial system is so fucked. Some of the things discussed aren’t surprising to people who pay close attention to what’s been going on, and the rest is a rant about how we’re all getting improperly fucked.
Bailout is an insightful documentary about the decline of our economy, no doubt, but there’s no influential punch there to get the audience up, wanting to challenge or take down “the system.” (The system being corrupt banks and pretty much anyone giving an empty promise.) We’re shown great (and mostly upsetting) examples of people who lost their homes and jobs and who are struggling, but the film also adds a side story about a group of buddies who grew up together and who, now broke and mad about it, drive to Vegas to gamble the little money they have to challenge the system. This is a real head-scratcher.
I’m all for sticking it to the Man, but this is a poor method of rebellion. I don’t have a better idea at the moment (or ever, if I’m going to be honest here), but there are probably a lot of other ways you can lift your middle finger high in the sky to the corrupt people in the world and not have to drive to Vegas and flush your money away to do it. Bailout just seems to be confused sometimes on how to tell its audience to stand together and be smart about how handling the scarce money you have in your life.
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