This weekend sees the release of Money Monster, in which George Clooney’s fictional financial analyst has an epiphany about his own culpability in recent financial crises when faced with an investor who has both a grudge and a way of killing Clooney’s character. But… what do you actually know about the current financial situation, and the ways in which the collapse of 2008 affected people not only in the U.S. but around the world?
Not every movie requires homework—not every movie is worth that kind of investment (no pun intended)—but Clooney, co-star Julia Roberts and director Jodie Foster trying to make a statement about an issue that affects us all? Surely it’s worth checking out these bits of background viewing, just to know what’s going on. Do it for Clooney.
ROGUE TRADER (1999)
Loosely adapted on the book of the same name—subtitled How I Brought Down Barings Bank and Shook the Financial World, which demonstrates the level of ego on show—the movie tells the story of stock dealer Nick Leeson, who manages to be so reckless with his deals that he manages to bankrupt his employer. If you wanted a melodramatic-but-rooted-in-reality lesson of how absolutely ridiculous the financial system is, this will get the job done—with the added benefit of starring Obi-Wan Kenobi.
THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (2012)
A delicious, horrific look at how the other half live—if, by “other half,” you mean “impossibly privileged, who are then forced to face something almost approaching reality when the 2008 financial crash hits"—this documentary follows the Siegels, owners of Westgate Resorts as they have to grapple with the concept of austerity when fortunes turn bad. (They remain rich enough to have some servants, because come on.)
After the opulence of the Siegels, things get real (and real depressing) in this documentary about the decline of the auto industry in Detroit, as told by three people living in the city—the president of the local union, a nightclub owner and a video blogger. Lacking a particular authorial voice, the movie feels loser and more organic than might be expected, and also more human.
MONEY FOR NOTHING: INSIDE THE FEDERAL RESERVE (2013)
Perhaps you’re curious about the American economy in general, though; well, this documentary about the Federal Reserve across the 20th century and early part of the 21st, will explain at least part of what’s going on, describing just what that august institution has been up to while so much of America has been struggling to pay the bills.
BIG MEN (2013)
For a second, let’s step outside the American financial system and look at how oil—okay, so we’re not stepping entirely away from American interests, I confess—has impacted Ghana, as the development of that country’s first commercial oil field is bogged down in corruption both inside and outside the political process. Spoiler: you will become very depressed about human nature and the way the world works.
CITIZEN KOCH (2013)
But return to the United States to see the ways in which being rich can help you have a voice within American politics, in this documentary that (as the title suggests) focuses on the Koch brothers, and specifically the role they played in the election of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Ironically, this movie also points to an alternate future for the funding of U.S. politics, in that it was crowdfunded through small donations online…
WE THE ECONOMY (2014)
Perhaps it’d be better to just break everything down into short movies with big questions, such as "What is money, anyway?” and “What causes financial inequality?” Those are just two of the many questions addressed in this anthology of short (5-8 minute) videos assembled by Morgan Spurlock, the man behind Supersize Me.
THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES (2015)
The unlikely pairing of Russell Brand and Michael Winterbottom are behind this British documentary about early 21st century recession that mixes Brand’s stand-up with a strange, skew-wiff exploration of income inequality and just how the rich are dealing with the financial collapse that the rest of the western world had to contend with. If you’ve ever wanted to watch unsuccessful doorstepping of billionaires, this is your documentary.
UNDERWORLD, INC. (2015)
And now for something completely different—a two-season National Geographic series about the businesses of the underground, including gun running, human trafficking, prostitution, illegal organ dealing, and all the other hits you could expect to see on a season of The Blacklist. Think of it as a quick primer into the other ways in which money moves around the world.
ASSAULT ON WALL STREET (2013)
After all of these true-life tales, perhaps you’ll need a little fictional revenge fantasy to cleanse your palette, and something starring George Clooney just feels a little too… refined for the job. That’s what Uwe Boll’s over-the-top thriller—in which a security guard declares war on the financial industry after trying to deal with his wife’s medical expenses—provides. Nuanced and subtle? Not in the slightest. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not strangely rewarding after everything we’ve learned.