Taking on an unwieldy subject ripe for critical scrutiny, “The Corporation” provides a surprisingly cogent, entertaining, even rabble-rousing indictment of perhaps the most influential institutional model for our era. Like co-helmer Mark Achbar’s prior “Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media,” equally long pic is likely to have a long, busy shelf life among venues catering toward politically left viewers. More immediate theatrical exposure might ride the coattails of “Bowling for Columbine,” given that it taps the same mad-as-hell zeitgeist. (It can’t hurt that Michael Moore is a key interviewee.) Just how wide pic can go will depend on marketing (a tie-in book is forthcoming), but prospects look unusually bright.
While unabashedly reproachful in regard to the corporate model’s history, “The Corporation” avoids a sense of excessively partisan rhetoric. That’s due in part to the impressive range of commentators, but also to a bold organizational scheme that lets focus jump around in interconnective, humorous, hit-and-run fashion.
Pic’s onscreen “map” is a grid of shifting images, with each “box” repping a subthesis (“Planet Inc.,” “The Price of Whistleblowing,” etc.). Pic zeroes in on one for each of pic’s chaptered sections. Fact that feature doesn’t hit every item at length underlines the pervasive notion that corporations are a bottomless topic in every sense.
Most impudent device stringing all this together is the ongoing graphic of a “Personality Diagnostic Checklist” that equates corporate “serial behaviors” — lying, manipulation, inability to relate to others’ concerns — with that of an antisocial, psychopathic individual.
Starting point, in fact, is the 1886 U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively gave corporations — hitherto strictly controlled, largely time-limited entities mostly assembled for public-works projects — the same rights as individuals. The decision opened a Pandora’s box of potential abuses in terms of monopoly, without moral scruples, unchecked political influence, et al.
If docu’s reach sounds almost impossibly broad — indeed, “The Corporation” might just as easily have taken form as a broadcast miniseries of 10 or more hours — credit is due co-creators Achbar (producer/director), Jennifer Abbott (director/editor) and Joel Balkan (writer) for creating a package at once deliberately overwhelming, sharp-eyed and consistently engaging.
Talking-head interviews, seldom sustained for more than a few pithy seconds, are salted into a heady mix of news telecasts, breaking event footage, computer graphics and much archival arcana. Latter includes vintage commercials, industrial training reels and propagandistic “soft news” plants, rendering pic a delightfully ironic “That’s Entertainment!” for corporate “perception management” through the last century. Forty-two principal commentators rep a Who’s Who of spokesmanship for myriad key p.o.v.’s.
Seriousness of related human rights, global warming, rich/poor gap, governmental corruption, etc., concerns is amply underlined here, even as whirlwind progress allows for just brief weighing of any specific consequence.
Pic’s length only grows apparent in the last stretch, when filmmakers find themselves at a loss deciding which summational statement to end with. Too many made the final cut. (Moore’s high profile in this section comes off a bit preaching-to-the-converted, but helps close matters with a rallying cry for citizens to make their voices heard.) Given that the United States is very much the elephant in the room here, Canadian pic’s occasional emphasis on home-turf events may sound an odd minor note among offshore auds.
Package is outstandingly kitted out in every respect, with special kudos due Abbott’s extraordinary editing effort.