American Made Movie: Film Review

More anecdotal than illuminating, this film about the decline of American manufacturing at least provides some reasons for hope.

Nathaniel Thomas McGill and Vincent Vittorio's documentary provides a hopeful portrait of some American companies defying the trend of international competition.

Economic themed documentaries naturally tend to be of the doom and gloom variety these days, but American Made Movie at least offers some hopeful aspects to its depressing portrait of the decline of U.S. manufacturing. While Nathaniel Thomas McGill and Vincent Vittorio’s film doesn’t cut too deep, its examination of some domestic companies bucking the trend at least doesn’t send you out of the theater feeling hopelessly depressed.

Naturally, the film presents an array of daunting statistics regarding such things as the dramatic loss of manufacturing jobs in recent decades; the growing disparity in incomes; the huge number of shuttered factories; the virtual domination of big box retailers; and the current sad state of our trade balance. An array of talking heads, including one figure identified as a “retail anthropologist”--now there’s a profession you probably never thought of pursuing)--provide vivid testimony to the dismal state of our economic affairs. Excerpts of gung-ho speeches by presidents ranging from Reagan to Obama ironically demonstrate that little has changed over the last several decades. 

More cinematically, the film begins with an imaginative segment about our national pastime, baseball, in which we’re made vividly aware that the uniforms and equipment used by the players are almost entirely manufactured by foreign companies. The sole exception is the venerable Louisville Slugger bat, still produced in Kentucky.

The film’s chief focus is on several businesses large and small that for various reasons, not the least of which is patriotism, have managed to succeed in producing their wares in America. These include New Balance, identified as the last major athletic shoe manufacturer in the United States; a welding and fabricating company that was nearly done in by Chinese competition, a jewelry maker who found herself temporarily displaced by the Smithsonian Institution gift shop, and so on.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is that current poster child for the decline of American manufacturing, the city of Detroit, whose ravaged state is not surprisingly a key thematic element.

Still, for all its thoughtful analysis, the film is more anecdotal than truly enlightening. While its cheerleading approach to the problem is admirable, it seems more designed to appeal to the heart than the head.

Opens Aug. 30 (Variance Films)

Production: Life is My Movie Entertainment

Directors/producers: Nathaniel Thomas McGill, Vincent Vittorio

Screenwriter: Ryan C. Wilson

Director of photography: Alexander Falk

Editor: Aaron Keuter

Composers: Krister Jonsson, Paul Kelly, Carmen Yates

Rated G, 84 min.