Did ‘Client 9’ director Alex Gibney predict Eliot Spitzer’s fate?


When I interviewed the Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney nearly three years ago, I was eager to know something about Eliot Spitzer. Gibney had just made a movie, “Client 9,” about the plot — and there was a plot, Gibney persuasively concludes — to help bring down the former New York governor. Would Spitzer ever try to run again, and if so, for which office?

“Yes. Comptroller,” Gibney answered without hesitation. “It’s a position where he can have a lot of influence, but it’s not so prominent that he’d face the kind of scrutiny that he would if he were to try to run for governor or national office,” Gibney said.

I may be consulting Gibney the next time I head to Vegas. The director turned out to be prescient when, a few days ago, Spitzer did just that, tossing his hat in the ring for the job of comptroller of the city of New York.


PHOTOS: Celebrities by The Times

Since announcing his return to politics, Spitzer has been using the tools of media and entertainment to mount his campaign. Earlier in the week he went on “Charlie Rose,” where sit-in host Mark Halperin asked the Democrat what possessed him to throw away such a coveted job. (Spitzer’s response: “I don’t think I can shed light on what motivations -- I mean, other than to acknowledge that we have within us all drives, urges which should be tempered, controlled, modulated, held in check, that I did not.”)

And on Friday Spitzer appear with Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show,” offering a Hugh Grant moment for the 21st century.

Though political rehab was the furthest thing from Gibney’s mind when he made his movie, “Client 9” nonetheless may become a symbol of that, just ahead of its time. The film argues that, while Spitzer was no saint, he was also the target of a group of ruthless corporate moguls and politicians who had an interest in stopping his reformist work. There are some extraordinarily juicy bits about rivals hiring tails and stalking him, essentially waiting for something — anything — they could use against him. When they had it, they pounced.

Spitzer does himself no favors with both his sexual peccadilloes and his high-handed tactics. But one comes away from the movie with the clear sense, as strange as it sounds, that he’s hardly the one to blame for his downfall. The metaphor the disgraced politician used, and Gibney most appreciates, is that of an assassination: Spitzer was the victim of a shooting, though he provided the bullets.

PHOTOS: Summer Sneaks 2013


(Incidentally, “Client 9” was not the only acclaimed doc back in 2010 to offer a more favorable view of Spitzer: “Inside Job,” Charles Ferguson’s Oscar-winning look at the culprits of the 2008 financial crisis, uses Spitzer as the voice of reason and even its moral conscience as it portrays the former state attorney general attempting to shake up the unethical culture of Wall Street.)

With Spitzer back in the news, it’s worth taking a new look at “Client 9,” in part for what it reveals but also because of what it represents. The story of any personality like Spitzer is never straightforward, and one scandal, especially these days, rarely tells the whole tale. When all is said and done, it may be that a documentary that suggests the possibility of a revival — and not than the tabloid headlines about a downfall — that proves most enduring.


Movie Review: ‘Client 9’

Documenting the Eliot Spitzer scandal

Scandal aside, Eliot Spitzer plans to re-enter politics

Follow me on Twitter at