'Poverty Inc.': Film Review
Gary Null and Valerie Van Cleve's documentary chronicles the causes of the nation's economic inequality
Class warfare. The global economic crash. America as a corporate state. These are just a few of the endless charges leveled on the modern economic system in Gary Null and Valerie Van Cleve's documentary that feels like a 48-hour binge marathon of watching MSNBC. Featuring an endless array of statistics, talking heads and footage of people around the world victimized by deprivation, Poverty Inc. is agitprop filmmaking at its most blunt and uninspired.
"Wall Street, not Washington, runs the United States of America," declares one of the dozens of interview subjects on display, in an example of the hyperbole that dominates the proceedings. Featuring such usual suspects as Ralph Nader, Robert Reich and Dennis Kucinich as well as an array of academics, journalists, economists, clergymen, homeless people and even the "Wolf of Wall Street" himself, Jordan Belfort (talk about the pot calling the kettle black), the film is a numbing exercise in didacticism that makes Michael Moore's efforts seem subtle by comparison.
History lessons are also trotted out, from the establishment of the Federal Reserve (boo!) in 1913 to the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act (boo, hiss!) to Dwight Eisenhower's frequently sampled speech decrying the military-industrial complex. Among the topics touched on briefly are media consolidation, the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, the privatization of the military and penal systems and the bailout of Wall Street. It's not hard to guess the filmmakers' position on each subject.
While the observations are often piquant — one commentator suggests that there should be a class below the poor, to be dubbed "Les Miserables" — their sheer accumulation proves wearisome. It's a mark of the film's ineffectiveness that even if one agrees with many of the positions espoused it's hard not to wish for opposing viewpoints.
The second film with this title to be released this year, Poverty Inc. is, like so many of these exercises, a prime example of preaching to the choir.
Production: Gary Null Films
Directors: Gary Null, Valerie Van Cleve
Screenwriter/executive producer: Gary Null
Producers: Valerie Van Cleve, Richard Gale
Directors of photography: Peter Bonilla, David Condon, Marcelo Coppuchinho, Easy, Zoie Florosz, Gus Menezes, Greg Russ, Fred Schuller, Richie Williamson, Audio Post, Park Ave. Post
Editors: Valerie Van Cleve, Nicholas Pulcini
Composers: Gene Michael Productions, Inc., Kevin MacLeod
No rating, 111 minutes