The documentary Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer begins with a painter cum pimp ruminating on the bestial and angelic sides of man from underneath a distracting straw hat. Ignore the hat and you gradually learn this philosopher worked for an escort agency that hired Ashley Dupré before she worked for the agency that sent her to service disgraced New York governor Eliot Spitzer.
Then you get to know an awful lot about the posturing Dupré and the escort business itself before documentarian Alex Gibney finally reveals that Spitzer probably had sex with her no more than once or twice; another woman who does not appear on camera, but instead is played by an actress, was his main date.
Along the way we are also treated to a lot of pulsating rap music and rapidly edited scenes of New York's equally pulsating streets. All of this is so unnecessary because Gibney has a remarkable story to tell and the interviews with which to tell it. He may not have the smoking gun that proves Spitzer was set up by political enemies but he has a credible theory and incriminating interviews. A quiet, pared-down style would have served his story much better.
Oh well. We live in an era in which the likes of Dupré can wind up with an advice column for the New York Post, and Gibney has to make a living just like the rest of us. If you forgive the showiness of his style and the long windup, you will be amply rewarded by this doc.
Before he was elected governor, Spitzer was the attorney-general of New York State waging a prescient campaign against corruption in the financial services industry. He successfully went after investment banks that were using affiliated brokerages to pump their stock prices and mutual-fund brokers who were allowing privileged clients to trade after the market had closed and, with less success, tried to bring civil charges against the insurance giant AIG, alleging fraud.
By the time the U.S. government was forced to bail out AIG to the tune of $85-billion in September, 2008, Spitzer might have looked like a hero, but by then he had resigned the governorship of New York a mere 15 months into the job after he had been named by The New York Times as a regular client of a prostitution ring under police investigation.
"I did what I did. Shame on me," Spitzer says on camera here in one excerpt from a lengthy and cautiously honest interview. Spitzer is not pointing fingers, but Gibney's main point is that when the police investigate prostitution rings they do not usually out the johns: The indictment against Emperor's Club VIP contained pages of references to "Client 9" and enough clues to his identity that the Times quickly got the hint.
Gibney has various possible candidates for some kind of conspiracy, all of them gloating on camera over Spitzer's fall. They include gonzo Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone, former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg (who was forced to resign when he would not co-operate with an internal AIG investigation) and Ken Langone, the Home Depot billionaire and former New York Stock Exchange director who took umbrage at Spitzer's campaign to expose inflated executive compensation.
Spitzer made powerful enemies with a combative style and unnecessarily personalized attacks. Claims he might have been the next Democratic president seem to ignore that he was a great prosecutor, not a great politician. Gibney doesn't have anything more than tantalizing clues and a huge amount of circumstantial evidence, but he doesn't need much more than that to indict Wall Street itself: When Spitzer resigned, they broke out champagne on the stock exchange trading floor. Shame on them.
Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
- Written and directed by Alex Gibney
- Classification: PG