A filmmaker takes a huge risk when they produce a film about a subject that is recently relevant and has been written, broadcast, and tweeted about ad infinitum. Such a risk was taken by Alex Gibney in his latest documentary Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer and for the most part his risk pays off. Gibney manages to take the story of Eliot Spitzer that anybody who pays half-attention to the American political sphere knows very well and makes it feel fresh and different. The ability to grip the viewer with a mysterious tale is not where Client 9 fails; it fails in its inability to raise the stakes and give the story a feeling of resonance beyond the current decade.
The greatest documentaries contain more than a fresh and widespread narrative. They usually conclude with a righteous call to action that can be felt for years following the scenario that is being chronicled. Client 9 can never escape the feeling that it is one manâ€™s story and not a microcosm for American political corruptness. It sometimes pretends to be a story about a righteous and innocent man who was made to be a martyr when he got too close to the powers in charge. However, said man is definitely not innocent, nor is he righteous, nor pitiable enough to be a martyr.
The film progresses with two main storylines â€“ Eliot Spitzerâ€™s political rise to power and the rise of the Emperorâ€™s Club, the escort service that eventually lead to Spitzerâ€™s downfall. Gibney interviews almost all of the central characters in the Spitzer story including Spitzer himself, who spends most of his time in front of the camera. Throughout the film Spitzer is never apologetic and far more interested in telling his side of the story and criminalizing those who brought him down. Gibney seems accepting of Spitzerâ€™s claims and presents far less flattering interviews with some of Spitzerâ€™s enemies including AIG CEO Maurice R. Greenberg. By allowing Spitzer to pontificate while coming across as rather unsympathetic it almost creates sympathy for one of the individuals primarily responsible for the economic collapse.
Gibney is not completely on Spitzerâ€™s side, however, which is evident when he gets access to interview the escort who had the most interaction with Spitzer. For confidentiality he does not show the woman on camera and instead hires an actress to say her words. The woman portrays an aggressive, overly sexualized man who bears traits that are remarkably similar to the Wall Street brutes he is trying to bring down. Some of the best moments of clarity come when Gibney turns the camera on Spitzer and asks questions about his experience with the Emperorâ€™s Club. Spitzerâ€™s face washes over with a startled look as if he was hoping to avoid all questions about the bad parts of his past.
Technically the film is pretty simple. Apart from the interviews the rest of the imagery consists primarily of archival news footage and slowly panning still images. Spitzerâ€™s look did not appear to change a bit in the decade of his life that his film covers, which makes it sometimes difficult to determine the temporal position of the story. That static look may have unintentionally served a psychological purpose as it implies that despite everything that Spitzer has gone through, he is not a changed man. The words coming out of his mouth only seem to confirm that.
Bottom Line: Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer is a documentary of now, but donâ€™t expect it to have much relevance beyond the current decade.