'Making a Killing: Guns, Greed and the NRA': Film Review

Courtesy of Melanie Wiegmann
Powerful stuff, although the film leans a little too heavily on emotional manipulation.

The latest political documentary by Robert Greenwald examines the gun industry and the big money behind it.

Making a Killing: Guns, Greed and the NRA proves that it's possible for a viewer to be in full agreement with every position taken by a documentary and still feel manipulated by it.

That isn't to say that this latest effort by filmmaker Robert Greenwald (Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, and many others) doesn't get your blood boiling with its powerful delineation of the close ties between the gun manufacturers and the NRA, and, more generally, the epidemic of gun violence afflicting the country. But its blizzard of statistics notwithstanding, the film consists mostly of true-life stories that, while undeniably tragic, stir up more emotion than thought.

As with most polemical documentaries, Making a Killing is unlikely to sway the opinions of anyone with strong feelings on the subject. Then again, changing minds may not necessarily be the issue, since 75 percent of NRA members already support universal background checks.

As the incendiary film makes clear, there's a lot of money at stake. Gun companies have donated some $20 million to the NRA. The NRA, in turn, has spent nearly $65 million on political donations and lobbying since the 1990s. And the gun and ammunition industry is estimated to earn $16 billion this year alone.

Greenwald doesn't do himself any favors, however, by concentrating so much on the huge salaries, lavish homes and private jets of gun company CEOS and executives. Virtually any industry, including those of a charitable nature, would project a similarly negative image, and this really has little to do with the problem at hand. It may be interesting to learn that Glock's owner once bought a horse for $15 million, but it isn't particularly relevant.

The film is divided into sections that use stories recounted by anguished survivors to explore various gun issues. We hear from Kate Rante, who was shot by her estranged husband. At the time, she had a temporary restraining order against him, and the police had seized his arsenal of guns. But nothing prevented her ex from legally purchasing another firearm. 

The parents of Kerry Lewiecki tell of their son's suicide. As result of a degenerative illness, he suffered from depression and, although he had no previous experience with guns, impulsively bought one and used it on himself just hours later. If there were only a waiting period for gun purchases, the parents argue, their son might still be alive.

The film also explores other issues, including: gun trafficking, pointing out that the majority of guns recovered in Chicago crimes come from states with looser gun laws; mass shootings, unfurling a detailed account of the incident in Aurora, Colorado; and unintentional shootings, telling the story of a 13-year-old boy who was accidentally shot by his best friend when the two were playing with an unsecured, loaded shotgun.

These and other tragedies, as well as a procession of infuriating facts and figures, infuse Making a Killing with a persuasive raw power. But the punch is emotional and, as the film points out, money is what makes the gun world go round. Only the most hardened gun advocates will be able to deny the film's power, but deny it they almost certainly will.

Distributor: Brave New Films
Director: Robert Greenwald
Executive producers: Robert Greenwald, Jim Miller, Bill Benenson, Laurie Benenson
Director of photography: Kristy Tully
Editors: Carl Pfirman, Paul McAleavey, Aaron Trager, Martin Biehn

Not rated, 103 minutes