In 2008, Eliot Spitzer stepped down as governor of New York when he was found to be ‘Client 9’ at the Emperor’s Club, a high-priced escort service catering to Wall Street’s wealthiest. Spitzer, tipped to become America’s first Jewish president, was forced into an early retirement, to the glee of the city’s market investors who’d been terrorised with threats of prosecution during his years as Attorney General.
Alex Gibney’s documentary Client 9: The Rise & Fall of Eliot Spitzer (2011) attempts to show both sides of the furore and invites Spitzer and his enemies to offer their perspectives on one of the most unprecedented downfalls in political history whilst putting together a convincing case that the entire incident may have been instigated by the traders he’d sought to defeat.
Although the documentary builds itself around its revealing interviews with Spitzer and his adversaries, it finds itself in a situation where the responses are too safe and political, the incident having only happened three years ago. Had Gibney given more time for the issue to subside then his subjects may have been more willing to disclose their personal accounts on the matters, but instead we learn little more than what was written in the papers.
The most divulging interviews though are with the heads of the Emperor’s Club and the escorts that worked there but their stories become trivialised by Gibney’s admiring account of Spitzer’s prosecutions of Credit Suisse, Lehman Brothers and AIG.
When giving factual accounts of the corruption on Wall Street, Client 9 is at its best, and Gibney’s reports of traders willingness to bypass federal laws with seeming ease is compelling to watch. By intertwining their interviews with Eliot Spitzer, the man who ultimately resulted in their downfall, Gibney manages to open up the stock exchange as being an intense and exciting world, rather than the dreary place its perceived to be.
Although the film never really answers the questions it poses, it does give enough details to satiate the curiosity of conspiracy theorists without ever becoming too sensationalist. Gibney goes as far as to question the consequences of Spitzer’s undoing, arguing that if he hadn’t been forced to step down then Wall Street traders wouldn’t have had so much freedom to broker ludicrous deals and the financial crisis could have been diverted.
Even though Client 9 does occasionally take itself too seriously and isn’t always able to get satisfying responses from all its subjects its still a fascinating account of the rigors of American politics. The details of the escort service are easily the least interesting aspect of the film and, despite their importance, could have been shortened to help cut down the slightly lengthy two hours running time.