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November 21, 2010

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Client 9 rises above the scandal

YOU want tears? You want convulsive sobs, weepy remorse, pleadings for forgiveness? Well, look elsewhere, because Eliot Spitzer is not going to give them to you.

What he will do in the documentary "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer" is providing measured, succinct contrition. The former governor of New York knows he made a mistake in hiring high-priced call girls. He explains the dalliances matter-of-factly and in a stoic demeanor.

So no, this is not the cinematic equivalent of Spitzer sitting on Oprah's couch and psychoanalyzing himself. 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 and 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.

But working alongside journalist and producer Peter Elkind, whose book "Rough Justice: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer" came out earlier this year, he also does something clever. Gibney not only reveals that Spitzer saw Dupre only once, which contradicts the dubious fame she achieved, but he also finds the escort who was his real favorite: "Angelina," as she is known here. Since this woman was reluctant to appear on camera or even have her voice used, Gibney had a beautiful and disarming actress, Wrenn Schmidt, to perform her interview transcriptions.

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 CEO of the Emperors Club VIP escort service is so brash and bubbly, it is a wonder she does not have her own reality show already.

It cannot 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 would just warm up a bit.


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