Wednesday, October 23, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW Inequality For All
The Macro & Micro Of Poverty & Economics, Via Reich

Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, narrator and subject of Jacob Kornbluth's documentary "Inequality For All"
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Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Four hundred and fifty people in the U.S. have more wealth than half the population of the country combined."  That and other jaw-dropping statistics populate Jacob Kornbluth's excellent documentary "Inequality For All", a deeply sobering and poignant film about the financial state of the average American and the economic earthquake that has subverted the American Dream. 

Mr. Kornbluth takes a macro and micro approach, using former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich as messenger and narrator as the avuncular advocate affectionately talks of his shortcomings in stature.  By contrast, Mr. Reich leads us on a paycheck-to-paycheck journey of the average American many identify with.  One woman says her entire net worth is the $25 in her checking account.  She hasn't eaten a meal so far on a particular day.  "Well, there's gas in the tank," she adds, as a tear streaks down her cheek.  There's Seattle CEO Nick Hanauer, who hates paying only 11% tax on the billions he makes annually.  (Most Americans pay between 28% and 35% in taxes each year.)  Mr. Hanauer shatters the myth that the rich are "job-creators", a mantra often trumpeted by Republican politicians.

Myriad statistics, archival footage, television clips and news reports contextualize very harsh realities including that the American middle class of the 1950s has been eviscerated.  There's the super rich and the rest of us.  This isn't a revelation, and any information presented is delivered matter-of-factly without need for additional alarm.  The facts and figures sound it. 

There's a psychological component to "Inequality For All" that is unspoken: How much do we as a people need on a daily basis?  How much money do you need to feel "good" about yourself?  Is money a barometer for self-esteem, and to what extent?  How do you define comfort?  Emotionally, financially?  And does living in America today bring you comfort?  In what way?  Economically or otherwise?

Mr. Reich, a professor of economics at the University Of California at Berkeley, seen in the film teaching his students over the course of a semester, has a big heart.  At times on camera he's something of a ham, as we see in various moments of comic relief, some welcome, some bordering on self-cheerleading and congratulation.  Still, it's necessary to have such a charismatic, even adorable figure in "Inequality For All" as the literal and metaphorical "little guy" going up against poverty, the systemic, inherently unbalanced economic structure and the goliath of greed: the CEOs making billions and shrinking wages to generate even more profits for themselves.  This last tactic is one of the most disturbing aspects of Mr. Kornbluth's devastating film.

"Inequality For All" takes an historical look at the economy, politics, presidencies, lobbying system, Tea Party, Occupy movement, 1979 -- the turning point year of the economic downturn post-Depression era -- and the tried-and-true social fallout, racial hostility and backlash in the U.S. whenever the economy tanks.  Each of these is carefully analyzed and explained as if we are students in Mr. Reich's class.  The film, much of it non-partisan, doesn't condescend.  It doles out cautionary bolts of lightning.

The former Clinton Administration cabinet member argues not that inequality itself is bad but that the severity and degree of it is.  "How much inequality can we as a society survive with before it does lasting damage to our nation?", Mr. Reich asks. 

Easy to understand but hard to swallow, "Inequality For All" offers insightful and an equally dire and hopeful outlook on the American family and the country's economic future.  As viewers we are asked to do some heavy lifting of our own, not just in the industrialized worker sense but in activating ourselves to do more to combat poverty.  A timely, intelligent dissertation and one of the best and most important films of the year, "Inequality For All" is a must-see for all.

"Inequality For All" is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association Of America for thematic elements, some violence, language and smoking images.  The film's running time is one hour and 32 minutes. 

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