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Originally published November 18, 2010 at 3:04 PM | Page modified November 18, 2010 at 5:01 PM

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Movie review

'Client 9' tells Spitzer's story, but we've heard it all before

Alex Gibney's "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer" tells the story of the former New York governor's fall from grace after prosecuting — then patronizing — prostitutes.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,' a documentary by Alex Gibney. 117 minutes. Rated R for some sexual material, nudity and language. Varsity.

Perhaps we're all just getting immune to sex scandals, but Alex Gibney's "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer" feels less like a hard-hitting documentary and more like a mild entertainment, a story that's always engaging but which we've heard a few times already. Spitzer is, of course, the former governor of New York and crusader against corruption on Wall Street who was brought down in 2008 by an unfortunate call-girl habit.

"I make no excuses," he says, facing the camera square-on like it's a firing squad.

Gibney, an Oscar winner for "Taxi to the Dark Side," ultimately comes down as sympathetic to Spitzer, pointing to his political enemies who might, perhaps, have had a hand in his downfall. While they're presented as a fairly nasty bunch — Hank Greenberg, former CEO of insurance giant American International Group, is quoted as saying "All I ask for is an unfair advantage" — it seems like a smoke screen. Maybe enemies did orchestrate Spitzer's exposure by the FBI (Gibney can't prove this conclusively, but it's an easy conclusion to draw), but that's not really the point: They didn't frame an innocent man, but a man who had prosecuted prostitution rings while attorney general of New York, and who spent more than $100,000 for the services of The Emperors Club. The man who preached ethics turned out to be not so squeaky-clean, and joins a long line of disgraced politicians who happened to get caught.

More interesting than Spitzer are the women who flit through this story: Ashley Dupre, the call girl who barely knew Spitzer but turned a brief liaison into a media career; giggly 23-year-old madam Cecil Suwal, who almost seems to believe herself when she says that the Emperors Club was charging clients so much money that "it didn't feel like prostitution"; Angelina, Spitzer's favorite escort, played by an actress because the real person, though insisting that she's a prostitute by choice, didn't want to be seen or heard on screen; and Spitzer's sad-eyed wife, seen only briefly at her husband's side at a news conference after the revelations. "Client 9" is made with skill and intelligence, but I kept wanting to hear another story; one that I hadn't heard before.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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