Alex Gibney’s Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer is misguided on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start. Suffice to say, most film critics are slavishly praising it, as sure a case of liberal media bias as you’d find in, say, NPR or the New York Times.
Gibney, whose previous documentaries include the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, is so outraged by Spitzer’s fall from grace he can’t come up with a unifying theme for his movie.
So he cooks them together into one narrative soup. Client 9 defends prostitution as a profession that saves marriages and claims Spitzer’s actions were just about sex and therefore meaningless. The real crime, according to Gibney, wasn’t a sitting governor breaking the law but the nasty Republicans who leaked the story to the press.
Only he can’t prove that last part.
Spitzer “was going to be our first Jewish president,” an unseen talking head offers in the film’s opening moments. And perhaps the voice is right. The so-called “sheriff of Wall Street” did seem like a shooting political star. A sharp, take-no-prisoners Democrat from New York, whose zest for law enforcement could easily pry away a few million Republican votes.
Early on, there’s hope Gibney will paint a political portrait missing from the 24/7 news cycle. We hear Spitzer describe how his father would wallop him in Monopoly at the age of 10, the eagle-faced politician chuckling at the memory.
He grew up in a family where tough political subjects were debated around the kitchen table. That’s where his zest for the progressive agenda took shape. He went on to believe it was his duty to use the law to arrest the bad guys and change the way society worked for the “little guy.”
Client 9 registers when it details the financial shenanigans Spitzer disrupted both as New York’s attorney general and, later, its governor. Gibney patiently breaks them down in a way even the financially illiterate can grasp and puts a human face on the damage they did.
The film soon loses its focus.