You want tears? You want convulsive sobs, weepy remorse, pleadings for forgiveness? Well, look elsewhere, because Eliot Spitzer isn’t going to give them to you.
What he will do in the documentary “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” is provide measured, succinct contrition. The former governor of New York knows he made a mistake in hiring high-priced call girls: “I did what I did. And shame on me.” He takes this mistake very seriously – describes it as if it were Greek tragedy, compares himself to Icarus. He explains matter-of-factly that such dalliances fulfilled his needs in a less-risky and emotionally taxing way than embarking on a full-blown affair, and his stoic demeanor comes in sharp contrast to his infamous rages, which his staffers referred to as the emergence of his “evil twin Irwin.”
So no, this is not the cinematic equivalent of Spitzer sitting on Oprah’;s couch and psychoanalyzing himself. He’s too self-possessed to allow the film to devolve into some sort of cheesy, crowd-pleasing catharsis; the most revealing statement Spitzer makes about himself comes when he recalls his father foreclosing on him while playing Monopoly when he was 10. That right there says so much about the forces that shaped the man who would become New York’s crusading attorney general, prosecuting some of America’s largest financial institutions and wealthiest corporate executives – and making the sort of enemies who would contribute to, and revel in, his disgrace.
Similarly, Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side”) seems uninterested in rehashing the juicy details of Spitzer’s trysts; his is an old-school tale of big-city payback. Sure, he features all the obligatory photos and ads for expensive call girls, women so otherworldly in their looks and skills, they command thousands of dollars an hour. He replays well-worn clips of Ashley Dupre, who famously became known for her involvement with the tabloid-dubbed “Luv Gov” while he was a political star on the rise. (Here, Gibney falls into some rather obvious filmmaking traps in recounting the indiscretions, such as playing the painfully literal “Love for Sale.”)
But working alongside journalist and producer Peter Elkind, whose book “Rough Justice: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” came out this year, he also does something clever. Gibney not only reveals that Spitzer saw Dupre just once, which contradicts the dubious fame she achieved, but he also finds the escort who was his real favorite: “Angelina,” as she’s known here. Since this woman was reluctant to appear on camera or even have her voice used, Gibney transcribed his interviews with her and had a beautiful and disarming actress, Wrenn Schmidt, perform her words.
These scenes, and the interviews with some of the more colorful supporting players, help bring “Client 9” to life when it threatens to feel like an informative but dry synthesis of political machinations. Cecil Suwal, who was the CEO of the Emperors Club VIP escort service at age 23, is so brash and bubbly, it’s a wonder she doesn’t have her own reality show already. Ken Langone, the billionaire Home Depot co-founder, former New York Stock Exchange director and an old Spitzer target, plays it coy in discussing how Spitzer’s liaisons were discovered, but he also makes swaggering statements like: “I been rich and I been poor. Rich is better.”
It cant be proved absolutely, but Gibney strongly suggests that all the enemies Spitzer had accumulated by the time he reached the governor’s office made it a point to snoop around his business, which raised questions about some of his money transfers, which led to the investigation that would earn him the name Client 9.
Spitzer has found a way to rehabilitate his name, though; Gibney’s film could have been called “The Rise and Fall and Subsequent Rise of Eliot Spitzer.” The former politician emerges as a hero in another recent documentary, “Inside Job,” about the economic collapse of 2008, and now co-hosts the CNN program “Parker/Spitzer.”
America loves contrition, after all – and it might love Spitzer a little more if he’d just warm up a bit.
Produced by Maiken Baird, Alex Gibney, Jedd Wider, Todd Wider, written and directed by Alex Gibney, music by Peter Nashel, distributed by Magnolia Pictures.