Review: ‘Hank: Five Years From the Brink’

Directed by Joe Berlinger
Featuring Hank Paulson & Wendy Paulson

‘Hank: Five Years From the Brink’ Opens Friday, January 31 in NYC at Village East Cinema

Prolific contemporary documentarian Joe Berlinger’s (Paradise Lost, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) linear, yet face-valuably informative ‘Hank: Five Years from the Brink’ offers a (somewhat) comprehensive, yet wholly unprofound look into the mind of a preeminently important 21st Centruy hyper-finance idealist.  Politics and morality aside, this accessibly brief documentary represents the height of modern non fiction protocol, bypassing intricate travel arrangements, bi-partisan objectivity or any noticeable tenet of investigative journalism, instead replacing them with a by the numbers timeline style account of our countries 2nd economic depression.

hank_film_poster_smallObjectively speaking, ‘Hank: Five Years from the Brink‘ does provide the innermost insider look at the world financial collapse of 2008.  With a prelude featuring Hank Paulson’s college life gradually meshing into his rapid rise up the corporate ladder and ultimately leading to the title of Goldman Sachs CEO before moving into the film’s meat, beginning with a reluctant acceptance to the thankless role of Treasury Secretary in the child-Bush administration.

Speaking for the duration of the film from a had-to-be-uncomfortable seated position directly in front of an admirably inquisitive Berlinger, Paulson and wife of 40 years Wendy recall the specifics behind the still nightmarish reality of a nearly $1 trillion corporate bailout (of which 99% of the countries population still wonders where their cut is), as well as pontificating on self-righteous (and almost entirely faith-based) moral concerns regarding behavior and practice pre and post crisis, regardless of subjective positioning within an amoral industry and culture where the Paulson family is able to boast undeniably prominent status.

With this film, Paulson is given an opportunity and platform to, not only, explain himself but to also clarify why it is socially acceptable to glorify (to the point of pseudo-deification) a culture of free market finance whose very business model is so unabashedly unfair to the vast majority of those forced to rely on it.  Through the vocalized reliving of the domino-like collapse of financial behemoths Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and more, as well as the concurrent administration-led bailouts of said corporations, unfortunately little more than a linear picture emerges; One even the financial, current events following or socially inclined layman is (read: should) already be aware of now, some six years on.

Hank: Five Years From the Brink‘ finds its silver lining in its sympathetic approach to its subject, however.  Though only a piece of a much larger puzzle, Hank and Wendy successfully come off as being concerned, even to the point of disgusted with the actions of their contemporaries.  Whether this is representative of a genuine sense of apathy, only Mother Earth knows for sure.

Where the film (disappointingly) does not go is deeper into an administration who actively sought the towering Christian Scientist son of a Mid-Western farmer.  As the entire world has come to know, this was an administration with the overwhelming tendency to occupy its positions with some of the centuries seminal villains; personified monsters of the capitalist class whose self-centered, market fornicating ways ultimately resulted in a lost generation of youth, hundreds of thousands of war torn families around the world, income inequality of the highest levels since the 1920;s and (perhaps worst of all) the financial dissipation of many in its greatest generation.  Given these universal truths, Paulson comes off as naively idealistic rather than truly evil. Never the less, the buck stops as those who accept the high ranking, influential positions of accountability exclusively offered to the elitist class, therefore giving Hank, Wendy, Goldman, Bush and their contemporaries ZERO room for ultimate vindication.

– Steve Rickinson

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