Saturday, January 21, 2006


Corporate movie reviews

By Edward Copeland

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Alex Gibney's adaptation of the book by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind is a fascinating primer and explanation of exactly how the biggest corporate crime story in history happened.

Reading a news story here and a news story there doesn't really give you a sense of what the Enron players like Skilling and Fastow did or explore the entire history of the company's malfeasance.

It also explores in great detail, using amazing audio and video tapes, various aspects of their shenanigans, especially how their energy trading not only affected the lives of many Californians but basically led to Gray Davis' downfall and Arnold Schwarzenegger's ascendance.

There also is some implicit connecting of the California energy crisis to the refusal to act by Kenny Boy's good friends in the Bush family.

The best thing about this documentary is that it isn't a political tract, it's just a straight-forward telling of the story — and it's a fascinating one that everyone should watch.

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

In the past, Robert Greenwald's documentaries such as Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism have left me cold, because he stacks the deck so much that even if you are sympathetic to his point of view, the movies don't quite work as documentaries.

While Michael Moore's documentaries have similar problems, what's good about those are that if you show them to someone who is not as sympathetic to his point of view, they might rethink things. He isn't just preaching to the choir.

However, Greenwald rises to a higher level of quality with Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, a thorough exploration and cataloging of all the allegations against the retail giant. It's still loaded, but it feels more like a work of documentary filmmaking than propaganda.

As someone who hasn't stepped into a Wal-Mart since the late 1980s when they removed magazines such as Rolling Stone from their shelves at the request of Jimmy Swaggart who called them "pornography" (and we later learned Swaggart knew what real porn was), perhaps I was even more of a target audience for this movie.

Laying out in detail the destructive effect of Wal-Mart on American communities, its mistreatment of employees both here and in China (though Germany with stronger labor laws get off better when working for them), environmental wrecklessness and other misdeeds, "Wal-Mart" is riveting — and I don't see how anyone who watches it won't be changed.

For years, whenever the subject of how awful Wal-Mart is comes up, I tell people to do like I do — don't shop there, but the lure of low prices usually trump their principles. If they watch this movie, perhaps that will be the tipping point. There is nothing you can buy at Wal-Mart that you can't get somewhere else and if it costs a little more or the location is a little less convenient, this movie will make you see why that is worth it.

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