Political documentaries tend to get the blood boiling, and this is no exception, as it keeps us entertained with a lucid exploration of just how our governments have failed us economically. The central topic is income inequality, and having a riotous figure like Russell Brand front and centre brings the issues home in a clear, infuriating way. Director Michael Winterbottom does a terrific job reining Brand in, keeping him on-point and making sure the details are clearly presented.
Right from the start Brand says that there's nothing in this film we don't already know. But he's connecting the dots in ways that the media certainly isn't willing to do, because they're part of the problem. Indeed, as he works with a classroom of young students, he proves that even a child can understand that our system simply isn't fair: the rich are getting richer, but the poor are struggling more than ever as the gap between them grows out of all proportion. Instead of tackling this problem, the politicians simply deflect it, blaming something as essentially irrelevant as immigration while neglecting a fundamental human value we all teach our children: sharing.
The film goes back in history to explore how we got here. In the 1970s, the wealthy earned 10 times what their lowest-paid employees earned, but the policies of Reagan and Thatcher shifted the balance to the rich, arguing that the cash would trickle down into the rest of society. But that has never happened. Companies and banks only consolidated power and profits, as the free market system made the highest-earning 1 percent even more greedy and selfish than they were before. Now top earners get up to 300 times what their employees are paid. No wonder people are broke, small businesses are failing and towns are in bankruptcy, while the rich just get richer.
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