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2005-11-21 06:53:15 (link)
"Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" A film by Robert Greenwald

Crawling out from trenches littered with broken mics and handycams, America's guerrilla film makers have finally withdrawn from the battlefields of the last election. But lessons learned from such full-blooded partisan cinema may have forever changed the way such films will be brought to the public. In stark contrast to the days when one could proclaim political allegiance with a ticket stub, the new breed of documentary is far more ambiguous and inclusive, favoring issues that should presumably get the support of every patriotic American.

The most striking element about Robert Greenwald's new movie, "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," is just how much it plays to conservative Americans. In an effort to maintain ambiguity throughout, "Wal-Mart" chooses not to discuss any political contributions the corporation made. When a lone statistic shows a donation figure, it doesn't even mention to which party. Furthermore, the only people who openly state their political leanings identify themselves as Republican. Even at the beginning of the film, Greenwald is quick to shoot close-ups of NRA and Republican bumper stickers clinging to the backs of beat-up pickup trucks. It's almost as if he's trying to assuage any red stater's fears that they had been suckered into buying a ticket for the new Michael Moore flick.

Perhaps Greenwald is justified in such a preemptive safeguard. Though he aims his cameras with the precision of a well placed sniper shot, the very nature of the documentary genre invites comparison to the daisy cutter bombasity of "Fahrenheit 911." But this is a much more subtle film than any of Moore's bumrush journalism, or for that matter even Greenwald's previous effort, "Outfoxed:" Cameras are placed on coffee tables in flyover country doublewides, interviews are conducted while people are cooking dinner or working on their car. But this Middle American, Springsteen-circa "Nebraska" attitude shifts gears dramatically when focusing on subject of the film. Wal-Mart: the company that makes a business out of shutting down mom and pop stores. Wal-Mart: the villain with a crack squad of union busters that fly in on private jets. Wal-Mart: the monster that locks illegal immigrants in overnight while they clean the store.

To accurately portray the spreading disease, Greenwald hop-scotches across the country, reveals a variety of problems with the store ranging from environmental to crime prevention, and even has time to stop by a Chinese sweatshop. The effect often overwhelms the audience with sheer numbers and statistics but becomes more than a checklist of facts. Until they're caught, Wal-Mart seems more than happy to provide such damning evidence of rampant negligence and profiteering; and every additional example is another brick in a building case against the giant corporation. With the end of the movie comes the success stories against Wal-Mart (from both conservatives and liberals, of course), as well as more questions. The extent to which Wal-Mart is responsible for the lack of ethics within big business or whether they are just a convenient target is never really addressed. But as the Wal-Mart CEO himself states in the film, "people like to go after the big guy." Robert Greenwald and his sniper rifle of a movie are aiming right for that smiling yellow head.

by Jon Fischer


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