Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pimps Don't Cry | The Other Guys (2010)

Movie characters who do bad things pretty much always get a comeuppance of some sort, see "Psycho" and Janet Leigh's cold, dead, embezzling body.  This makes the ending of "The Other Guys" notable.  One bad guy gets it, but there's another not-quite-bad-but-definitely-not-good-guy who bypasses judgement and receives the kind of fairy tale style grace normally reserved for heroes.

The bad guy is Mr. Ershon (Steve Coogan).  It's unclear whether he's bad at his job or purposely engaging in Ponzi-style shenanigans, but what is clear is that he's lost large amounts of money for a number of investors including Nigerians, Chechens, and Lendl Global.

Detectives Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) arrest Mr. Ershon for the decidedly dull charge of improper permitting of construction scaffolding, but that arrest leads them to discover that he intends to fraud a brand new investor and use those funds to repay Lendl Global.

They stop Mr. Ershon and he is sent to jail.  But the CEO of Lendl Global receives a government bailout and does not have to present a profound loss to her shareholders.  Whether the CEO was in cahoots with Mr. Ershon and believed they'd pull in a high return quickly and painlessly, or she was duped into making a poor investment, doesn't matter because she is responsible for the decisions (and the repercussions good or bad).  The CEO made a mistake but never has to suffer the consequences.

Her clean "getaway" is not because of poor, lazy or sloppy filmmaking.  It's not like they ran out of time and clipped that thread where it stopped.  It appears to have been done on purpose, because the end credits are animated with graphics illustrating how...
  • the amount of money spent on TARP would have bought a trip around the world for every tax payer
  • the corporate tax rate for Goldman Sachs was 34% around 2007 and fell to less than 1% after the bailouts
  • the maximum retirement benefit of the NYPD is $48,026 and the average CEO retirement is over $80 million
  • the CEO to Average Employee income ratio was 8:1 in the 1920s and is now 319:1
  • the average 401k value in 1991 was $102,014, in 2007 it was $69,200, and in 2009 it was $64,200
The Lendl Global bailout and the end credits reinforce the primary theme of the film, the idea that the real heroes in life are the "other guys" - the nondescript, unglamorous guys who show up each day and do their jobs.

In the end, Hoitz and Gamble are back on the job.  The one successful case earned them the respect of their department, enabled Hoitz to marry his estranged girlfriend, and the two are now driving around in an environmentally friendly muscle car, but the next day is a workday and so they're back at it.  Mr. Ershon is in jail, they did their job.  The CEO of Lendl is out of their jurisdiction.  

It's a bit Frank Capra, but with a twist.  The film values honest workaday folk, but Hoitz and Gamble don't achieve attention of the Senate (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) or widespread media attention (Meet John Doe, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town).  Their impact isn't wide ranging or splashy, yet this doesn't make them less admirable or less heroic.