Eye For Film >> Movies >> Inside Lehman Brothers (2018) Film Review
Inside Lehman Brothers
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Where were you on 15 September, 2008?
That was the day that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, sending shockwaves around the world. If you didn't catch the news straight away, you couldn't hide from it for long. The impact of the institution's collapse, something previously considered unimaginable, led to the collapse of numerous other businesses around the world and the exposure of wrongdoing in a host of other giant investment banks. Confidence in the markets was shattered. The economic crisis that followed saw wages plummet around the world. People lost their homes and livelihoods. But what exactly happened at Lehman Brothers, and how did the truth get out?
Jennifer Deschamps' documentary focuses on a few individuals whose whistle-blowing changed the world. Arguably it was their exposure of the bank's secrets that triggered its collapse, but all the evidence suggests that without them, the problem would have continued to get worse and when it did happen, the crash would have been bigger. They were people recruited for their ability to identify fraud, there to fact check company profiles, investigate new methods of investment and manage the balance sheet. What they didn't know was that they weren't expected to do those jobs, at least not too thoroughly. They were there to give the impression that the business was exercising due care and attention, not to get in the way of its money-making schemes. When they found problems and reported them, they were expected to let the matter go. When they started taking the higher up, they found themselves in trouble.
As so often the people in the most vulnerable positions were black women. Descamps' film details the campaign of racist and sexual harassment they experienced, an apparent attempt to drive them out of the company or ruin their credibility so they couldn't act as witnesses. It took a white man taking the story to the press to get it real attention, and even then the initial response was cynical. It was widely assumed - and the slogan has now entered the popular lexicon - that Lehman Brothers was too big to fail.
The person-centred approach pays off, making the film a lot more accessible than it might have been, and Deschamps still finds room to explain the financial concepts necessary to understanding how the crisis developed: investment banking basics, the use of subsidiaries, the foreclosure crisis etc. There's a degree of anger behind the latter part of the story, which takes in the political dimension of subprime mortgages, bringing the story right up to date. Interviewees describe the positions they find themselves in now, facing financial difficulties of their own after what sounds very much like industry blacklisting. Then there's the position of former CEO Dick Fuld, who is still living in luxury and still running a business.
Though it packs an emotional punch, this never gets in the way of the story. This isn't a forensic examination of the collapse - given that there's still related litigation underway, that would be difficult - but it's an effective examination of the structures and methods that allowed fraud to go unaddressed for years, and it brings a fresh perspective to its subject.Reviewed on: 11 Nov 2018