Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: U.N. Me

Pugnacious documentary charges the United Nations with everything from gross incompetence to aiding and abetting genocide. The multipronged assault is mostly successful except when undermined by co-director Ami Horowitz’s cornball Michael Moore antics.

May 31, 2012

-By Chris Barsanti


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1343128-UN_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

The thesis of Ami Horowitz and Matthew Groff’s attack documentary is sublimely simple: The United Nations is an incompetent shell of an organization barely able to manage its own personnel, much less live up to its mandate of protecting human rights and securing peace. Slow-moving, planet-sized and hyper-bureaucratized, the organization is an immensely rewarding target, and one that seems to be the definition of a sacred cow. It’s a shame, then, that the filmmakers’ hyperactive style rushes viewers through a hasty slideshow of horrifying grievances instead of dwelling in any depth on more than a couple of them. It’s a double shame that Horowitz—who serves as the film’s nervy host/provocateur—gets in the way more often than not by trying to jam his half-Michael Moore, half-Sacha Baron Cohen persona into a film that would have been many times more powerful without it.

Horowitz and Groff’s framing device is a particularly ugly episode from the U.N.’s recent past: the 2009 Anti-Racism Conference in Geneva, where the keynote address was given by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The vile absurdity of that moment hardly needs any more critique and so it makes sense that Horowitz moves on to other sins and misdemeanors. Things don’t start off strongly, with Horowitz wandering the empty halls of the United Nations after working hours while “Ghost Town” plays on the soundtrack. (The film shows a strong penchant for cheap sound cues and sight gags throughout.) But after that comes the first of his most disturbing segments: U.N. peacekeepers in Cote d’Ivoire who seem to spend more time at the beach, going to brothels and even gunning down peaceful protestors than actually keeping the peace. It’s a harrowing story, but again one that is severely handicapped by the filmmakers’ need for unnecessary gag-making (a short segment called “Peacekeepers Gone Wild,” which makes for particularly wan satire).

What follows is likely more familiar to many viewers, namely the “oil for food” bribery scandal around the Iraqi oil embargo and accusations that the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency has been spectacularly ineffective at its stated mission of stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons. For this reason alone, the doc would be less interesting at this point anyway. But additionally, the filmmakers use a more familiar roster of critics here (Republican politicians and soapboxing anti-internationalists like Frank Gaffney) trying to score political points. Elsewhere, the film bolsters its arguments much better by an ability to produce stark testimony from a range of former employees (weapons inspectors and peacekeepers) and others with more first-hand experience.

U.N. Me hits a fever pitch of outrage when it comes to how pathetically inept the U.N. has been at stopping mass atrocities. The story (still not told enough) of how Canadian general Romeo Dallaire’s pleas to his superiors at the U.N. to allow his peacekeepers to intervene in the opening stages of the 1994 Rwandan genocide fell on deaf ears is as damning an indictment as one could need. The film roars from that episode into an account of how the U.N. tried to water down a report from Nobel Prize-winning human-rights activist Jody Williams (whose fire-breathing impatience with bureaucracy is as close to a heroic attitude as one can find in this film) about the massacres in Darfur.

Throughout the film, Horowitz proves to be a better Cohen impersonator than would-be Moore, adeptly playing verbal rope-a-dope with unctuously grinning dictatorship diplomats. If he had dialed down the gags (most of which aren’t particularly funny to begin with), though, his film could have packed a serious punch. As such, it will struggle to find viewers among documentary audiences, no matter how urgent its message is.


Film Review: U.N. Me

Pugnacious documentary charges the United Nations with everything from gross incompetence to aiding and abetting genocide. The multipronged assault is mostly successful except when undermined by co-director Ami Horowitz’s cornball Michael Moore antics.

May 31, 2012

-By Chris Barsanti


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1343128-UN_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

The thesis of Ami Horowitz and Matthew Groff’s attack documentary is sublimely simple: The United Nations is an incompetent shell of an organization barely able to manage its own personnel, much less live up to its mandate of protecting human rights and securing peace. Slow-moving, planet-sized and hyper-bureaucratized, the organization is an immensely rewarding target, and one that seems to be the definition of a sacred cow. It’s a shame, then, that the filmmakers’ hyperactive style rushes viewers through a hasty slideshow of horrifying grievances instead of dwelling in any depth on more than a couple of them. It’s a double shame that Horowitz—who serves as the film’s nervy host/provocateur—gets in the way more often than not by trying to jam his half-Michael Moore, half-Sacha Baron Cohen persona into a film that would have been many times more powerful without it.

Horowitz and Groff’s framing device is a particularly ugly episode from the U.N.’s recent past: the 2009 Anti-Racism Conference in Geneva, where the keynote address was given by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The vile absurdity of that moment hardly needs any more critique and so it makes sense that Horowitz moves on to other sins and misdemeanors. Things don’t start off strongly, with Horowitz wandering the empty halls of the United Nations after working hours while “Ghost Town” plays on the soundtrack. (The film shows a strong penchant for cheap sound cues and sight gags throughout.) But after that comes the first of his most disturbing segments: U.N. peacekeepers in Cote d’Ivoire who seem to spend more time at the beach, going to brothels and even gunning down peaceful protestors than actually keeping the peace. It’s a harrowing story, but again one that is severely handicapped by the filmmakers’ need for unnecessary gag-making (a short segment called “Peacekeepers Gone Wild,” which makes for particularly wan satire).

What follows is likely more familiar to many viewers, namely the “oil for food” bribery scandal around the Iraqi oil embargo and accusations that the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency has been spectacularly ineffective at its stated mission of stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons. For this reason alone, the doc would be less interesting at this point anyway. But additionally, the filmmakers use a more familiar roster of critics here (Republican politicians and soapboxing anti-internationalists like Frank Gaffney) trying to score political points. Elsewhere, the film bolsters its arguments much better by an ability to produce stark testimony from a range of former employees (weapons inspectors and peacekeepers) and others with more first-hand experience.

U.N. Me hits a fever pitch of outrage when it comes to how pathetically inept the U.N. has been at stopping mass atrocities. The story (still not told enough) of how Canadian general Romeo Dallaire’s pleas to his superiors at the U.N. to allow his peacekeepers to intervene in the opening stages of the 1994 Rwandan genocide fell on deaf ears is as damning an indictment as one could need. The film roars from that episode into an account of how the U.N. tried to water down a report from Nobel Prize-winning human-rights activist Jody Williams (whose fire-breathing impatience with bureaucracy is as close to a heroic attitude as one can find in this film) about the massacres in Darfur.

Throughout the film, Horowitz proves to be a better Cohen impersonator than would-be Moore, adeptly playing verbal rope-a-dope with unctuously grinning dictatorship diplomats. If he had dialed down the gags (most of which aren’t particularly funny to begin with), though, his film could have packed a serious punch. As such, it will struggle to find viewers among documentary audiences, no matter how urgent its message is.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Tracks
Film Review: Tracks

Ably supported by Adam Driver, Mia Wasikowska commands the screen in John Curran’s superbly photographed drama based on a true story. More »

Hollidaysburg
Film Review: Hollidaysburg

Well-observed, empathetic look at friends reuniting over their first college break. More »

The Zero Theorem
Film Review: The Zero Theorem

A noisy, hyperkinetic, visually gorgeous spectacle that tackles the mother of all big questions–the meaning of life—Terry Gilliam's latest is sometimes frustrating and occasionally outright goofy, but it's never dull. More »

Art and Craft
Film Review: Art and Craft

Documentary portrait of the artist as a disturbed man, but one who is overwhelmingly endearing, functioning and talented—and whose métier happens to be art forgery. This smartly produced and constructed art-themed art-house entry delivers a canvas of caper, comedy and delightful curiosities that engage and provoke some serious thought. Like the hero’s forgeries, it deserves a close look. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

The Maze Runner
Film Review: The Maze Runner

Youths try to break out of a deadly maze in the latest young-adult doomsday thriller. More »

This is Where I Leave You
Film Review: This Is Where I Leave You

Siblings bond, fight and face new problems after the death of their father in an ensemble dramedy based on the best-selling novel. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here