Kicking assets and taking names, “We’re Not Broke” gets in the face of deficit hawks and budget cutters with a well-researched, brightly presented and provocative argument that the U.S. isn’t overtaxed and profligate, but rather a paradise for corporate tax cheats. Though it focuses too heavily on anti-corporate pranksters, this infuriating docu could be a combination time bomb and viewer magnet given the currency of the Occupy movement, campaign rhetoric and President Obama’s recent focus on economic inequality. But the question is venue: Pic may end up preaching to the converted, when what it really needs is a slot on Fox News.
Economic chicanery abounds in “We’re Not Broke,” which goes about debunking the right’s economic position by parading a university’s worth of economic experts and some indisputable facts about how much multinationals like Exxon, Google and Bank of America pay in federal income taxes each year: nothing. Google, Oracle, Cisco, Microsoft, Adobe, Pfizer and Duke Energy have stashed a combined trillion dollars offshore in low-taxing countries, and want a special tax deal from the U.S. government before they’ll bring the money back. Warren Buffett has complained that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, but so does G.E.
Helmers Karin Hayes and Victoria Bruce run the risk of driving the audience to despair with the information they dig up, which is neither secret nor really open to interpretation (the figures are what they are and are public knowledge). Presented in such concentrated, collected fashion, however, it’s close to overwhelming, especially given the public’s seemingly willful ignorance on the issue. But the film moves with energy and wit, maintaining engagement with its viewers, who may be led to wonder why teachers, firefighters and police offers are being laid off while tax-skirting corporations make record profits.
Where the helmers misfire is in their attempts to personalize the film and portray the anti-corporate movement through stories of individuals, such as Ryan Clayton, of the organization U.S. Uncut, or Carl Gibson, a college grad who can’t find a job. What we see are people essentially pulling pranks: participating in flash mobs, interrupting stockholder meetings and bellowing slogans, actions that belittle their own arguments.
The issues at the center of “We’re Not Broke” are enormous, concerning the growing disparity of U.S. wealth and the seemingly intractable influence of money on elections. But by giving jokesters equal time with real issues and real thinkers, the directors dilute the gravity of their movie and diminish the stature of serious reformers.
Production values are good, Dan Radlauer’s music being particularly effective.