Before he was a CNN talk show host, he was either a white knight for financial regulation or another ego-monster who couldn’t keep his zipper up, as we see in Client-9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, a thoroughly fascinating documentary about the former New York governor.
That Eliot Spitzer himself is interviewed for this documentary, answering (sort of) even difficult hooker-related questions, might give you some sense of this movie’s point of view. Comparisons to Icarus aside, the movie comes down on the side of Eliot Spitzer as victim of his own hubris but also of powerful enemies. And the movie all but directly states that he could be headed back into politics.
What I mostly remembered about the Spitzer scandal was that great New York magazine cover with one word on it — “Brain,” with an arrow pointing to Spitzer’s pants — and his wife, looking like she was being tortured (which, I suppose, she was) standing next to him as he resigned. The movie takes you deeper into the story — explaining the workings of the Emperor Club (the upscale escort service that provided him with women), showing how the investigation progressed and explaining how Ashley Dupre, the woman connected with Spitzer in the scandal, was probably just a one-night stand. A woman called Angelina, whose interview with the filmmakers is performed by an actress, claims to be Spitzer’s regular girl.
The sex stuff isn’t particularly surprising — he was, it seems like, a guy with an outsized sense of his own power. The more surprising part is that he knew he had rich enemies, Wall Street guys many of them and other Albany politicians with access to Wall Street money, who would love to see him fall. That in spite of this he pursued an activity that isn’t just morally dirty but also illegal seems like the height of arrogance.
But enough about Spitzer — some of this movie’s best, seamiest, dirtiest moments are about the cases he tried as attorney general. He went after AIG years before most of us had heard of the company, as well as the head of the New York Stock Exchange. If you’ve seen the trailers for the upcoming Inside Job, you’ll notice that Spitzer is one of the talking heads. This — Wall Street guys doing shifty things — was his beat long before 2008 and that part of the documentary is by far the most interesting. Whether it makes a completely convincing case that this crusading was what led to a vindictive investigation of the Emperor Club (the movie’s assertion seems to be that the investigation was, from start to finish, only about taking Spitzer down) probably depends on your overall political point of view as well as your feelings about Spitzer and Wall Street. B
Rated R for some sexual material, nudity and language. Written and directed by Alex Gibney, Client-9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer is an hour and 57 minutes long and distributed by Magnolia Pictures, which is currently offering it via Video On Demand.