You don’t need a film to tell you that the economy took a nosedive in late 2008 and continues to flounder. Viewers who can define value chains and already know the intricate differences between prime and subprime mortgages may feel enlightened by Leslie Cockburn’s look at the buildup to this crash. For the rest of us, however, the parade of talking heads speaking advanced business-ese and the close-ups of computer screens filled with number-clogged charts is almost indecipherable. Thanks for not talking to us like idiots, but the lack of accessibility ends up turning this into a collegiate lecture.
Some of the film’s simpler notions need no explaining, such as the fact that targeting minorities for bad loans is wrong or that government bailouts for banks aren’t working (the machinations behind this notorious charity, however, are barely touched upon). But Cockburn & Co.’s Frontline-style approach substitutes patter from banking experts for reasoned explanations while simultaneously dulling the senses. Worse, the attempts to add pop-doc aspects feel remarkably trite: Scoring scenes of families losing their homes to bad hip-hop and Moby tunes reeks of easy emotional yanking. American Casino tries to connect the big picture regarding a major problem to a human pulse and comes up lacking on both sides. It’s a gamble that simply doesn’t pay off.