If you’re looking for a definitive answer to why former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the crusading prosecutor many believed would become America’s first Jewish president, was dumb enough to get caught visiting $1,000-an-hour prostitutes in 2008, napalming his political career in the process, don’t watch Client 9. Alex Gibney’s detailed and damning documentary is far more interested in why the federal government went after “the sheriff of Wall Street” for his sexual transgressions with such ferocity—spending the kind of money and resources usually reserved for building terrorism cases on nailing a NYC prostitution ring. The answer? Spitzer was winning. The tall, balding lawyer ferociously targeted Wall Street’s white-collar criminals, overpaid CEOs and environmental polluters during his eight years as New York’s attorney general and, as governor, was making headway in reforming New York’s capital city of Albany, that “bog of waste, double dealing and graft.” According to Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Taxi to the Dark Side), a handful of ridiculously powerful men the prosecutor had burned, including former AIG head Hank Greenberg and Home Depot founder and former New York Stock Exchange director Ken Langone, wanted to shut Spitzer down; to punish him for changing the way the political system worked. They won. Spitzer was never charged with any crime (except stupidity) but a series of lurid media leaks turned him into a tabloid joke and torpedoed his ambitions.
The two-hour doc plays out like a lost season of HBO’s The Wire, complete with a passionate and flawed do-gooder lead whose legendarily violent outbursts were termed “visits” from his “evil twin Irwin” by his staffers. There are scheming business tycoons, a terminally cheerful madame and a Republican fixer/swinger with a tattoo of Richard Nixon’s face between his shoulder blades, and dialogue Aaron Sorkin would give his eyeteeth for. (Spitzer refers to himself as a “fucking bulldozer” and issues declarations of war against his enemies. Boardroom titan Langone rasps out that he hopes Spitzer’s “own private hell is hotter than anybody’s.”) But what’s devastating is that these characters are real and continue to affect America’s economy with their actions. Gibney nabs interviews with all of them, including Spitzer; even hiring an actress to reenact his transcribed interview with the pol’s favorite call girl, “Angelina,” who later traded in her negligees to become a day trader. “Those whom the gods would destroy they make all powerful,” Spitzer says, calmly comparing himself to the Greek myth of Icarus flying too close to the sun. That’s seems fitting for a man who was taken down by the world’s oldest profession. R.