Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve: Film Review

Money for Nothing - P - 2013
Furrowed-brow doc bits off more than it can chew.

Jim Bruce worries that the Fed's course is leading to another catastrophe.

With the Federal Reserve so much in the news, both in policy terms and with the guessing game over who'll fill Ben Bernanke's shoes, Jim Bruce's D.I.Y. debut Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve has a better shot at reaching moviegoers than ever. The information-stuffed doc succeeds in part of its mission, stoking debate among viewers who know their quantitative easing from a hole in the ground. But it's not quite accessible enough to stoke the kind of passion its tagline -- "the first film about the next crisis" -- suggests, and its commercial prospects are limited as a result.

Liev Schreiber does too good a job replicating the impersonal tone of an educational doc here, narrating Bruce's film with an air of authority that leads one to expect more of a script that isn't sure if it's talking to financial novices or the CNBC crowd. Parts of the film may provoke "aha" moments in the former audience -- a section on the 1987 crash tidily shows how the Fed's mission expanded and foreshadows the trouble that would cause -- but explanations of the mechanics of monetary policy move too quickly for the uninitiated.

An established editor who has worked in both docs and Hollywood features, Bruce gives the film a degree of visual polish but is distractingly unsubtle in both his choices of music and in dumbed-down stock footage: If the word "formula" appears in the narration, images of 1920s scientists or Dr. Frankenstein will accompany it; if we're told Alan Greenspan "was hitting home runs," expect to see Babe Ruth.

Press materials note that Bruce "began writing a financial newsletter in 2006 warning friends and family of the oncoming crisis," and made enough money on pre-crisis short trades to fund much of the film. But Money for Nothing feels less prophetic than generally handwringing -- it's just enough to produce vague worry in the unschooled without moving policymakers to do anything they're not already doing.

Production Company: Liberty Street Films

Director-Screenwriter-Producer: Jim Bruce

Directors of photography: Bob Richman, Antonio Rossi

Music: Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum

Editors: Jim Bruce, Jared Rosenberg

No rating, 101 minutes