NEW YORK -- It's a real sign of the times that the scariest offerings at your local multiplex aren't the horror flicks but the documentaries. The latest example of the trend is this nonfiction effort by director James D. Scurlock detailing the abuses of this country's credit industry. Besides presenting a daunting array of fearsome facts and figures from a variety of talking heads, "Maxed Out" offers a series of truly heart-rending victims.
Similar in its subject matter to 2005's "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" but broader and more emotional in it approach, "Maxed Out" presents a truly depressing portrait of the way this country and its citizens are getting deeper and deeper into debt.
Scurlock says that he was inspired to explore the subject after hearing President Bush urge the country to keep spending in the days after Sept. 11. The film is thus infused with a real sense of outrage that fortunately is backed up by its presentation of voluminous facts. Detailing the abuses of the banking and credit card industries and the ways in which they exploit their admittedly often naive and ill-informed customers, the film makes a strong and articulate case for the need for reform.
It thus probably didn't need to hedge its bets with its overly manipulative presentation of victims of financial manipulation ranging from the mothers of two college students who committed suicide after overextending themselves on credit cards to the family of a missing woman who might have drowned herself in a nearby lake because of a gambling addiction to the poor and mentally challenged young man who becomes the object of attention from a lending institution.
Although these segments undeniably tug at the heartstrings, they ultimately are far less intellectually persuasive than, say, the erudite commentary by a Harvard professor who describes the rapacious practices of the lending industry in illuminating and scary detail.