By Christopher Null
McLibel was "officially" released way back in 1998, but like all good stories, it continues to develop. As I write this in March 2005, there's new footage in the film dating from just a month ago -- though the film does seem to indicate the book has been closed on a very unique case in legal history.
In England, there's a law that gives corporations wide-ranging authority over what can and can't be said about them. It's trivially easy to threaten a libel suit -- which is exactly what happened to Dave Morris and Helen Steel, who were handing out anti-McD's leaflets in 1990. Accusing the company of being unhealthy, unfair to workers, cruel to animals, and other atrocities, Morris and Steel were expected to quickly apologize and promise to cease and desist -- as countless media empires had before them. Not quite. The duo went to court, creating a PR nightmare for Mickey D's.
Following Morris and Steel through the British legal system comprises the bulk of the film, with asides on the veracity of their claims -- as the pair are charged with proving the truth of the leaflets in court. In the end, the decision goes half and half, as Morris and Steel are held liable for some of the claims, innocent on others. But the big loser is McDonald's, who spends millions on a year-long trial and is crucified in the court of public opinion. Director Franny Armstrong makes McD's awkwardness and stupidity palpable.
The film is saddled by some unfortunate decisions, including a half-assed reenactment of some of the court scenes and a tragically poor explanation of the British legal system, which will come off as entirely foreign and random to American viewers. The subjects of the film also go through some unfortunate moments which display a frightening failure to understand how business and industry works: No, McDonald's can't "give half its profits to its employees," and yes, McDonald's has to serve its shareholders first, not society at large. Anti-capitalist sentiment can work on a gut level, but it can be extremely misplaced, and neither Armstrong nor Morris and Steel are able to offer solutions to the mess they've almost blindly wandered into.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 20th May 2005
Distributed by: Cinema Libre Distribution
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Cast & Crew