'The Emperor's New Clothes': Tribeca Review
Russell Brand has a go at "free-market fundamentalism"
"Everything you're going to hear about in this film you already know," admits Russell Brand at the outset of his and Michael Winterbottom's The Emperor's New Clothes, and it's true: If you're a politically conscious person in 2015, you know that the filthy-rich are getting filthier, the rest of us are scrounging, and governments are a lot more likely to put you in jail for stealing a hundred-dollar iPod dock than for wiping out the life savings of thousands of people. Brand knows you know, and he knows you're not out on the street with a pitchfork — possibly because you're exhausted from work. What he's hoping here is that if the rabble-rouser is funny and insistent enough, you might finally be moved to do something. Premiering here on the same day of its UK theatrical release, Clothes is sure to draw a smaller crowd Stateside than in Blighty, where Brand's a proper star; it seems an unlikely candidate for wide theatrical release here, but could stoke the flames in special bookings and on small screens.
Vastly more tightly focused than the other Brand doc to appear at fests this spring, Ondi Timoner's Brand: A Second Coming, this one sticks entirely to the causes (hello, Milton Friedman) and repercussions of the 2008 financial crisis, and to a more general discussion of wealth inequality.
On the latter subject, Brand enlists a room full of 100 adorable schoolkids, using them to illustrate 1%-vs-99% economic realities and asking them if they sound fair. "Noooo!!!," the kids sweetly wail. Later he offers some real-world examples, sitting in ordinary people's living rooms and asking if they'd mind telling him how much they make.
Brand holds our attention easily while recounting the rise and fall of the New Deal. But while many of his take-it-to-the-streets stunts get laughs, some feel like a Michael Moore doc remade with a better looking, smarter and more congenial guy playing the fool.
He occasionally puts a memorable spin on arguments so many right-minded people have made, as when he tries to undo the business world's claims that strongly progressive income tax would turn economies stagnant and cause spoilt milk to rain from the sky. Putting clips of Bardot, Belmondo and the Riviera onscreen, he brags that in the days when France was the coolest place on Earth, their richest citizens were paying 90% in tax.
Winterbottom matches pace with his loquacious star by keeping it simple: Quick cutting and brash onscreen graphics, bold titles punching key talking points so we don't miss them. His is a film for young eyes in need of stimulation, the kind of people who'd never think of buying a ticket to the Noam Chomsky documentary playing elsewhere at Tribeca. Surely, both kinds of film are needed right now, as we try to move from everyone knowing something to everyone doing something about it.
Production company: Revolution Films
Director-Screenwriter: Michael Winterbottom
Producer: Melissa Parmenter
Executive producers: Nik Linnen, Andrew Eaton
Director of photography: James Clarke
Editor: Marc Richardson
Sales: Sonia Droulhiole, Studio Canal
No rating, 100 minutes