Dir: Robert Greenwald. US.2005. 95mins.
The reviled and lauded US corporate behemoth Wal-Martis - depending on your viewpoint- either the end of civilisation or anillustration of the triumph of free market brilliance.
The largest employer inNorth America now falls in the sights of rakish and entertaining left-wingprovocateur Robert Greenwald in Wal-Mart:The High Cost Of Low Price, a sobering critique ofits business practices that offers emotional accounts of the company's perceivedpredatory instincts.
While the documentary had abrief US theatrical engagement last November, it has also found a furtheraudience through increasingly sophisticated means - such as direct mail and theinternet - of distributing features. Greenwald notes on his website that morethan 100,000 DVDs of Wal-Mart havebeen shipped to date.
The feature's Berlinpremiere begins its European launch, where its attack on capitalism, taken withthe polemical and emotionally devastating incidents illustrated, is bound to findfavour.
But while Greenwald's filmshave been successful - as have other anti-corporate documentaries like The Corporation and Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me - this lacks the wit andinventiveness Michael Moore fully exploited in the likes of Bowling ForColumbine.
Throughout Greenwald remainsan outside presence; rather the film's emotional power is established by thecontrast between the pronouncements from Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott and examples ofhow rival businesses in small towns across America have seen their businessescollapse because of their failure to compete with the company.
The most gripping example isa Missouri man who painfully recounts how his family firm was wiped out afterthe opening of a nearby Wal-Mart, a move allegedly part-facilitated bygovernment subsidies.
Greenwald has been attackedin the past for tilting at windmills and preaching to the converted. Caughtbetween journalism and entertainment, Wal-Martis neither great movie-making nor penetrating social analysis but rathermost effective at recording cultural and political convulsions inside the US ata certain time and place.
For the disenfranchised, itoffers neither answers nor hope, just the point that such events have not goneunrecorded.
Brave New Films
Chris M Gordon