3 stars (out of 4)
If you've gotten mad at any corporations lately--at the way some gobble up smaller businesses, ship jobs overseas and deluge us with cheap-junk products--"The Corporation" may be just the movie for you.
In fact, you may enjoy Mark Achbar's and Jennifer Abbot's exhaustively researched documentary even if you're a corporate booster. It's good stuff: a non-fiction film on weighty issues that also manages to entertain. And though it examines the phenomenon of big business from a skeptical and even hostile viewpoint, conducting a largely one-sided investigation into where corporations came from and how they operate, "The Corporation" provides enough information and insight to make it worthwhile for anybody.
It's a fascinating movie, full of ideas, but we shouldn't be surprised that it becomes a kind of indictment. Achbar and Abbott and writers Harold Crooks and Joel Bakan developed the film from a book by Bakan, and the title of that book, "The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power," plainly reveal this film's agenda and theme.
Is it too slanted? Most of us, asked whether modern corporations are mostly beneficial or malign, would probably answer: "Both." On the one hand, corporations employ many of us, manufacture many useful consumer products, help generate scientific advances and medical breakthroughs, and have brought the American standard of living to an all-time high. They also deliver most of the movies we watch and the pop culture we imbibe.
But some rob, steal and defraud their stockholders, fire American workers and callously open cheap-labor factories over the border or overseas, pollute or damage the environment, seduce or buy the political establishment for their own gain and churn out unwatchable movies and idiotic pop, while devoting themselves to the pursuit of profit by whatever means necessary.
It all depends, of course on who's running them--though some of "The Corporation's" witnesses feel the blight may be systemic.
So, the film --an award-winner at many festivals from Sundance to Chicago, where it shared the 2003 "best documentary" prize--gives us history and context analysis. It offers a parade of witnesses--from Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky to whistle-blowers, academics, activists and even a few CEO's--to answer a variety of questions. Meanwhile Achbar and Abbott fill us in on the history of corporations from the watershed year of 1886 on.
In fact, one of the movie's main hooks is its ironic comparison of corporate bodies with human beings--especially pathological or criminal ones. This isn't just a facetious conceit. The rise of the modern American corporation, the film notes, was strongly encouraged by a truly bizarre 1886 Supreme Court decision, when some very persuasive corporation lawyers argued the proposition that corporations should be legally classified as "people" and should enjoy the same constitutional protections as the rest of us--including those recently broadened to protect freed black ex-slaves. And they won, the result being a solidification of a corporation's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness--or, in this case, profits.
Over and over, "The Corporation's" interviewees give examples of much modern corporate mischief and misbehavior (along with some good deeds), ranging from the excesses of an Enron to the stifling of a couple of investigative reporters at Fox News. And several times, they ask implicitly, whether a person who behaved like this would be regarded as a suitable case for treatment.
That the filmmakers--including Achbar's suggestively named co-producer Bart Simpson--already know the answer may be the film's main flaw. But that doesn't mean this is just another politicized documentary preaching to the anti-establishment choir. It's a movie so chock full of information, so dense with context and analysis that it will keep you thinking and reacting, no matter what your bent or slant--and no matter where you stand on the world-wide corporate ladder.
Directed by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott; written by Joel Bakan, Harold Crooks & Achbar, based on the book "The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power" by Bakan; photographed (Digital Betacam) by Achbar, Rolf Cutts, Jeff Koffman, Kirk Tougas; edited by Abbott; music by Leonard J. Paul; sound designer/music supervisor, Velcrow Ripper; produced by Achbar, Bart Simpson. Narrated by Mikela J. Mikael. A Zeitgeist Films release of a Big Picture Media Corp. production; opens Friday, July 16. Running time: 2:15. No MPAA rating. Parents are not cautioned for objectionable material, but mature concepts and discussions will make it difficult for small children.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times