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Alex Gibney: The hardest working man in show biz

Watching Alex Gibney's splendid documentary "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer" over the weekend, I realized that no other American moviemaker has done so much first-rate work in the past five years.

This year alone, in addition to "Client 9," he created a film version of Lawrence Wright's one-man show "My Trip to Al-Quaeda," as well as a segment of the anthology film "Freakonomics," and the eye-opening "Casino Jack and the United States of Money," a thrilling and bleakly funny analysis of Jack Abramoff that traced the corrupt lobbyist's roots back to "the conservative revolution."

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Gibney often takes on topics that seem to be familiar and then, through a combination of shoe-leather journalism and pop-Brechtian showmanship, produces movies that are as emotionally involving as they are revelatory. "Client 9" is infuriating in a good (and maybe even a great) way. It gives Spitzer his due for tackling the fraud and corruption of Wall Street and Albany, as New York state attorney general and governor, without making excuses for his sex scandal or for the failures of leadership that prevented him from weathering that scandal. (That's a shot from Gibney's film: Spitzer with his wife Silda as he announced his resignation as  governor.)

Gibney's Spitzer film puts most print and online coverage of his subject to shame at both the micro and macro levels. The quality of Gibney's interviews (with Spitzer, his fat-cat enemies, and even Spitzer's preferred call girl) is matched only by his ability to keep them all in perspective. He inspires you with Spitzer's quest to root out the white-collar crimes that have become a social epidemic. You leave the film outraged by a society that would rather read about Spitzer's trysts with prostitutes than his tilts with ruthless CEOs.

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The Motion Picture Academy has put "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer" on the preliminary list of fifteen nominees for best documentary. I hope it makes the final list of five -- and reaches ever-widening audiences. It relates in intriguing ways to that other terrific documentary and Oscar rival, "Waiting for Superman." It says that the problems of America's feckless corporate greed, like those of its malfunctioning public school system, can't be fixed by a single man or woman of steel. Spitzer thought he was a Superman, and fell to earth.

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