The Flaw debuted to vast public and professional interest at Sundance, with all five screenings sold out. Perhaps because few other films in the documentary category seemed willing, or competent, enough to confront the issue of the day in such a manner, but The Flaw is a film which squares up to the issue with confidence, verve and righteous anger.
David Sington’s film focuses on the recent collapse of the housing bubble, and its ramifications on the global economy – though the focus on the human impact is squarely based in the US. The audience is introduced to Alan Greenspan’s economic paradigm – essentially, the ‘rules’ by which we understand the global economy – and how an unforeseen blind spot in the theory (the Flaw of the title) could have caused the collapse. In short, Greenspan’s flaw was a belief that the financial sector would adjust prices to compensate for a middle-class wage freeze, acting in rational self-interest. We all know what happened next. To see Greenspan, the high chief of global economics, sheepishly admit that he did not foresee the financial crisis is humbling and more than slightly scary.
The film is peppered with stories of how small businesses and families had their plans upset by the downturn. Andrew is a former bond trader turned tour guide, who explains a good many of the issues at hand, and Antoinette, an optician who owes mortgage payments which massively exceed her income. It’s standard documentary-building, but these stories hit hard.
A particularly nice touch, one which alleviates the economic misery and the often head-scratching technical jargon of the film, is the inclusion of clips from practically antique educational cartoons – the kind from which American kids learned about fair wages and the right to home ownership many years ago. It’s a choice that could stand the film in good stead in future, when no doubt another wave of ‘financial crisis’ documentaries will hit.
I think, however, that what makes The Flaw an outstanding documentary is its firm stance. The film is bold for how it draws a firm distinction between good capitalism and bad capitalism: good capitalism being that of the 1950s, when living standards increased and the job market was thriving, bad capitalism being that of the past thirty years, when living standards increased only for the highest wealth tier and the average person is in debt to the tune of thousands. Bashing the bankers is not a niche sport these days, but The Flaw is to be applauded for attempting to redeem the capitalist system itself, rather than the people who ruined it. Sington’s film deserves to be seen by every mortgage lender and Dow Jones shareholder in the West.