'The Best Democracy Money Can Buy': Film Review

This impassioned documentary strains too hard for laughs.

Investigative reporter Greg Palast provides evidence about widespread voter suppression in this documentary he co-directed with David Ambrose.

Voter suppression is an important issue, particularly with a presidential election just around the corner. But Greg Palast drops the ball with his documentary, co-directed by David Ambrose, which seems more intent on establishing the iconoclastic reporter as a heroic figure than digging deeply into its topic. Filled with self-indulgent stylistic digressions more distracting than illuminating, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy will prove disappointing even to viewers sympathetic to its arguments.

The film—subtitled A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits and whose credits label it "A Greg Palast Investigation--begins with an appropriately damning quote from right-wing, billionaire businessman Charles Koch: "I want my fair share…and that's all of it!"

We're then introduced to Palast--a reporter who's written investigative pieces for such publications as Rolling Stone and The Guardian—wearing a trench coat and fedora, looking like he just stepped out of a film noir mystery. He proceeds to lay out in great detail the numerous efforts by conservative politicians and their supporters to purge electoral rolls via such methods as "Crosscheck," a computer program overseen by Kansas Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach designed to root out supposed millions of examples of voter fraud by identifying people who may have voted twice in different states. That most of these suspects are minorities is strictly coincidental, or so the program's proponents would have us believe.

The film spends a good chunk of its running time exposing the essential falsehoods of Crosscheck, but also goes off on tangents relating to Donald Trump (naturally); the Koch brothers; the Keystone Pipeline; and numerous other right-wing causes. Palast, aided by his sexy investigative sidekick Leni Badpenny, confronts such figures as Kobach and billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson at an ice cream social and ritzy dinner party respectively.

Lurching from topic to topic, the disorganized film suffers from attention deficit disorder, and the constant infusions of comic book-style graphics and celebrity cameos don't help. Among those making brief appearances are Richard Belzer and Ice-T, doing a Law and Order riff; Willie Nelson, making pot jokes; Rosario Dawson, jokingly confirming a vast Hispanic conspiracy to steal votes; Shailene Woodley; and Ed Asner, delivering a Big Short-style comic explanation of the 2008 housing crisis.  

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy certainly makes many valid points, but they tend to be lost amidst the overriding cutesiness. By the time the film gets around to its parody segment dubbed "Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless," many viewers will have long since tuned out.

Production: The Park Foundation, The Puffin Foundation, The Cloud Mountain Foundation
Distributor: Cinema Libre Studio
Directors: David Ambrose, Greg Palast
Screenwriter: Gret Palast
Producer: David Ambrose
Executive producers: Leni Badpenny, Von Edkardt-Manzoni
Director of photography: Daniel Meyers
Editors: David Ambrose, Anthony Dimieri, Daniel Meyers
Composer: Mario Grigorov
Not rated, 110 min.