Director: Marcus Vetter, Karin Steinberger
In a dank and colourless hotel room Martin Armstrong looks on as a fortune teller peddles his folly. “You are not lucky with politicians, soldiers, police,” he intones with customary endearment.
A fitting prediction, though hardly surprising given Armstrong’s propensity for run-ins with the major banks that see him as a threat to their order, and the authorities that protect that order. Infamous and ambitious, he will likely encounter them once more.
A coin collector and historian from early age, Armstrong used his education to build computer models drawn from near-ancient financial data. With a sought-after tool, Armstrong begins to plot trends and patterns in the markets.
Writer/directors Marcus Vetter and Karin Steinberger insist that when ‘The Forecaster’ predicts a major boom, it happens. When things go bust, everyone loses out. Everything turns in cycles, and what goes up must eventually come down. Clients sing his praises. A visionary, they call him. This bedraggled and dyed American seems to possess the most envious of skills.
Part conspiracy-thriller, part miscarriage of justice tale, this documentary falls apart when it begins to lay claim to plots and foils far outside the realm of believability.
Armstrong was jailed in 1999 by US regulators. He would eventually serve more than 11 years behind bars after a plea deal was reached. They alleged an immense Ponzi Scheme and perhaps this really was the case. However, Armstrong’s contention is far more sinister.
Scrawling an immense spiderweb on cheap paper, he unravels an unsubstantiated conspiracy to put him away while Wall Street types (who apparently run the government) rifle through his pockets looking for his industry secrets. Things get more extravagant when Russian President Vladimir Putin enters the frame. His rise to power was “engineered” to ensure a safe hand at the wheel of a major oil-producing nation.
Without evidence and sufficient explanation, the film’s appeal as a thriller is lost. Good thrillers don’t string you along. The best thrillers are believable no matter the outlandish claims made.
The Forecaster does share some characteristics with a particular brand of post-2008 Great Recession filmmaking that includes Inside Job and Too Big to Fail. But in reality, the 2009 picture Collapse is more of a touchstone. Martin Ruppert, that film’s surprising star, is in many ways an analogue of Martin Armstrong. Both are defeated men beaten down by the powers that be, hollering from a soap box that the end is nigh.
As a character portrait alone, The Forecaster might’ve succeeded. Indeed interviews with Armstrong’s mother and other relatives are the beating heart, telling of their desperate wranglings with the justice system.
But there isn’t enough of this fuel to run a behemoth ship which makes self-aggrandising claims for itself. More moderation and consideration might’ve been wise.
The Forecaster is showing at the Documentary Edge Festival.