So Friday night, I finally got around to seeing Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices, with a group of folks at my wife’s church.
Perhaps I went in with distorted expectations. The movie’s been showered with hype, promotion, and gushing reviews since before it came out, so I anticipated something a little more … polished.
But it struck me as rather amateurish. I mean, if you want to make a point, is throwing spinning text at the screen with a big loud KA-DUUUM! really the way to do it?
I could forgive the scrappy, seat-of-the-pants technical quality. What I couldn’t get past is the constant sense that I was being manipulated — pretty crassly. I mean, I’m on the film’s side. I hate Wal-Mart’s labor and environmental practices as much as the next guy. But still I felt like I was being played for a dupe, that my intelligence was being underestimated. What few actual facts and statistics showed up in the film (there was way, way too much "chatting with average red-state folks" for me, but maybe I’m not the target audience) seemed, with a few exceptions, vague and cherry-picked.
In the end, the documentary is designed purely for rabble-rousing. It’s openly partisan — a big haymaker rather than some kind of nuanced look at a company, its effects, and the economic system that produced it. A wonk like me would have preferred the latter.
(I should also say that the activist campaign built up around the film is more admirable in many ways than the film itself.)
Update [2005-12-13 11:59:37 by David Roberts]: Julian Sanchez’s review of the film in Reason is quite astute.