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Monday, December 21, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW
What's The Matter With Kansas?
Postcards From The Heartland


The aftermath of a 2007 tornado in Greensburg, Kansas, from the documentary "What's The Matter With Kansas?"
.
Tallgrass Films

By Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Monday, December 21, 2009

Thomas Frank goes on the road to the heartland in "What's The Matter With Kansas", a documentary from his own same-titled best-selling book, directed by Laura Cohen and Joe Winston.  The film opens in San Francisco on January 1 and is currently playing in several U.S. cities.  

Mr. Frank and the filmmakers take a hands-off approach in their travels to Kansas as they chronicle several state residents and the political conservatism present in some parts of Kansas despite increased unemployment, poor healthcare, etc., all under Republican stewardship.  

If you are looking for Mr. Frank to dole out doses of indictment ala Michael Moore or the kind of keen and cogent analysis he provides in his book be prepared for profound disappointment.  Instead "Kansas?" offers glimpses into the personal lives of the middle and working class, and is most effective when examining the history of Kansas' populist roots and showing us slices of America some of us only hear about from afar.

Mr. Frank, whose book was published in 2004 and has since written The Wrecking Crew, identifies his personal politics as left-leaning.  He can currently be read in The Wall Street Journal, which he recently said to this writer in a soon-to-be-published interview was somewhat a contradiction, given the staunch right-wing ideology of its editorial page. 

"What's The Matter With Kansas?" leaves the audience to draw its own conclusions about the state, and the state of the people as Mr. Frank journeys across Kansas in a manner reminiscent of the late Charles Kuralt, who did an "On The Road" segment for the CBS TV news broadcasts with Walter Cronkite and on the CBS magazine show "Sunday Morning" for many years.

There are some memorable and colorful characters in Mr. Frank's home state.  One makes an attention-getting, highly provocative and offensive statement with a display of signs that includes swastikas.  The senior citizen behind the signs, seems to have political view inapposite to the signs he displays.  There's a young woman who fervently participates in the political process, campaigning for a state politician.  There's a middle-aged woman who finds romance and partnership on her farm.  The people we see are real, and they're interesting, stripped down of the gloss and glamour that Tinseltown escapism so often flaunts.


Ms. Cohen and Mr. Wilson do well to dial down the temperature and righteous indignation typically at the heart of political documentaries and allow the people on camera to tell their stories unfiltered, something many other documentaries on the subject of politics could benefit from.


“What's The Matter With Kansas?” opens in San Francisco on January  1.

“What's the Matter With Kansas” is not rated by the Motion Picture Association Of America.  The film’s duration is one hour and 30 minutes.

Trailer: What's The Matter With Kansas?



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