Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Payback

Three real-life horror stories are linked by the theme of debt in this informative but sometimes wandering doc.

April 25, 2012

-By David Noh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1332258-Payback_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Debt is the subject of Payback, Jennifer Baichwall’s documentary based on the book by esteemed author Margaret Atwood. Atwood herself appears in the film and is a welcome, bracing intelligence in a film that, while undoubtedly worthy and serious, is in definite need of an anchor.

Baichwall focuses on three stories of justice-in-question: a blood feud between two families in rural Albania, the hideous mistreatment of tomato pickers in Florida and the 2006 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, for which, to date, no one has been directly held accountable. All three, of course, are powerful accounts, and Baichwall definitely knows where to put her camera, giving us a comprehensive look into each. But her choice of structure in breaking up the stories, intercutting them and doling out details in an effort to provide unnecessary dramatic “arc” is distracting and rather undercuts their impact.

Whether it’s a fight between neighbors over ancient family territory that ends in gunfire, the hardscrabble existence of immigrant farm workers or that greasily unthinkable, most unnatural of disasters, these conflicts all stem basically from economics. Atwood offers a pithy observation about the “trickle down” theory of wealth and how this metaphor “is not a gushing waterfall but a leaking tap.”

What’s particularly eerie about the oil catastrophe is just how uncannily photogenic it is, as footage shows incendiary flowers of flame and the dread encroachment of brown sludge into pristine aquamarine water. In Florida, we are shown a modern museum of slavery but, as economist Raj Patel remarks, people are never encouraged to think about anything negative—like the exploitation of human lives—which might effect their fast-food enjoyment, for example. (Patel is one of the other eloquent speakers Baichwall has assembled, which also include Louise Arbor, head of the International Crisis Group, ecologist William Rees and religious writer Karen Armstrong.)

One of the Albanians involved in the “kanun,” or ancient law involving blood feuds, after giving vituperative testimony about his despised neighbor, sings a traditional song with lyrics: “Let’s come together and try to talk and never have blood feud again.” This naked irony is not lost on Baichwall, naturally, and shows how words, however eloquent and cherished for generations, can be no more efficacious than all those heinous lies offered by BP officials.


Film Review: Payback

Three real-life horror stories are linked by the theme of debt in this informative but sometimes wandering doc.

April 25, 2012

-By David Noh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1332258-Payback_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Debt is the subject of Payback, Jennifer Baichwall’s documentary based on the book by esteemed author Margaret Atwood. Atwood herself appears in the film and is a welcome, bracing intelligence in a film that, while undoubtedly worthy and serious, is in definite need of an anchor.

Baichwall focuses on three stories of justice-in-question: a blood feud between two families in rural Albania, the hideous mistreatment of tomato pickers in Florida and the 2006 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, for which, to date, no one has been directly held accountable. All three, of course, are powerful accounts, and Baichwall definitely knows where to put her camera, giving us a comprehensive look into each. But her choice of structure in breaking up the stories, intercutting them and doling out details in an effort to provide unnecessary dramatic “arc” is distracting and rather undercuts their impact.

Whether it’s a fight between neighbors over ancient family territory that ends in gunfire, the hardscrabble existence of immigrant farm workers or that greasily unthinkable, most unnatural of disasters, these conflicts all stem basically from economics. Atwood offers a pithy observation about the “trickle down” theory of wealth and how this metaphor “is not a gushing waterfall but a leaking tap.”

What’s particularly eerie about the oil catastrophe is just how uncannily photogenic it is, as footage shows incendiary flowers of flame and the dread encroachment of brown sludge into pristine aquamarine water. In Florida, we are shown a modern museum of slavery but, as economist Raj Patel remarks, people are never encouraged to think about anything negative—like the exploitation of human lives—which might effect their fast-food enjoyment, for example. (Patel is one of the other eloquent speakers Baichwall has assembled, which also include Louise Arbor, head of the International Crisis Group, ecologist William Rees and religious writer Karen Armstrong.)

One of the Albanians involved in the “kanun,” or ancient law involving blood feuds, after giving vituperative testimony about his despised neighbor, sings a traditional song with lyrics: “Let’s come together and try to talk and never have blood feud again.” This naked irony is not lost on Baichwall, naturally, and shows how words, however eloquent and cherished for generations, can be no more efficacious than all those heinous lies offered by BP officials.
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 »

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 »

Pump
Film Review: Pump

Thought-provoking documentary about the lunacy of only fueling cars with gasoline loses credibility the more it turns into a single-minded broadside. 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