The usually silver-tongued Eliot Spitzer, political hero of the recent movie Inside Job and now ubiquitous media personality, stammers and hesitates when asked to explain the psychosexual motivations behind his spectacular flameout in Alex Gibney's gripping Client 9 — or, if you prefer, Inside Blow Job.
Spitzer, whose tireless efforts to redeem himself led to his cooperation in this doc, receives an entirely sympathetic—yet thoroughly researched — treatment from Gibney. The prolific documentarian — Client 9 is Gibney's fourth film this year — makes a persuasive case that the former governor may have been brought down not just by his penis but by his deep-pocketed enemies: GOP operatives and the titans of industry Spitzer went after during his tenure as New York state attorney general from 1999 to 2006.
Gibney's sit-down with Spitzer, sleekly filmed in what looks like his living room (or the study of an Ivy League club that didn't reject his application for membership), finds the notoriously rage-prone crusader once known as the Sheriff of Wall Street initially speaking about himself in the third person before finding analogies to his downfall in Greek mythology: "The only metaphor I can think of is Icarus. Those whom the gods would destroy, they make all-powerful." That power was wielded through Spitzer's zealous pursuit, while attorney general, of large corporations and their obscene pay packages, bringing down the New York Stock Exchange's Kenneth Langone in 2004 and AIG's Maurice "Hank" Greenberg in 2005. Both men talk onscreen (Langone most memorably: "I hope his private hell is hotter than others"), as do fellow Spitzer-haters Joseph Bruno, the former Republican majority leader of the New York Senate, and scummy GOP strategist Roger Stone, who claims that he was retained by wealthy Republicans to stay on the "Spitzer detail."
Gibney's assiduous presentation of a payback plot against Spitzer — including information on the enormous amounts of money, time, and resources that Michael Garcia, the Bush II–appointed U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, spent tracking the governor's prostie visits — is matched by his diligent investigation into the workings of the Emperors Club VIP. "Ultimately, vice just took over virtue and he couldn't control himself," giggly 25-year-old Cecil Suwal, who started the exclusive escort service with her sexagenarian boyfriend, says of the righteous politician they knew as "George Fox." Aspiring pop singer, former Gansevoort Hotel bottle girl, and New York Post sex columnist Ashley Dupré, we discover, wasn't Spitzer's preferred paid companion; they had only one assignation, at D.C.'s Mayflower Hotel in February 2008. The Emperors Club employee most favored by Spitzer agreed to be interviewed on the condition that her face and voice not be used. Gibney code-names her "Angelina" and provocatively — but effectively — uses an actress (Wrenn Schmidt) to perform her testimony. Angelina, apparently the only newspaper-reading escort who recognized Spitzer, debunks myths — the governor didn't do it with his socks on — and sheds light on their pillow talk: "I'd go on rants about what was wrong with New York City, and he'd listen."
As for what was wrong with Spitzer, whose phenomenally bad judgment (and appalling hypocrisy) was the result of either extraordinary hubris or a willful need for self-destruction, the man himself tensely offers this vague explanation: "Those are the mysteries of the human mind, I suppose, because I don't know." But as Gibney, persistently asking his subject to reflect on his reckless behavior, argues, what matters more than the reasons behind Spitzer's psychological shortcomings is that his political career ended — most likely forever — just when we needed his stewardship the most. Could Spitzer have protected us from Wall Street's implosion six months after he resigned as governor? Probably not, but Empire Staters would at least have been spared the disastrous rule of David Paterson.
"My view is I brought myself down," Spitzer, believably contrite and unwilling to portray himself as the victim of a conspiracy, admits. His chastened confession will do more to rehabilitate his image than any number of Parker Spitzer episodes. If Angelina, now working as a commodities day trader, can reinvent herself, why can't a devoted, flawed public servant?