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Merchants of Doubt

Sony Pictures // PG-13 // November 8, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Merchantsofdoubt]

Review by Jeff Nelson | posted November 8, 2014 | E-mail the Author

The art of the documentary is often heavily underrated by many mainstream audiences. Many of these films have something interesting to say, if you give them the chance. They have the power to make us feel all of the same emotions as a fictional piece of storytelling, yet there's always the possibility of also leaving the cinema more informed of the topic that is in discussion. Director Robert Kenner's Merchants of Doubt explores a problem that is created by humans, and affects us in our everyday lives. In fact, it harms our planet on a daily basis, even though many people decide to dismiss any of the evidence that has been put forth by the most recognized scientists. Of course, I'm talking about global warming.

Merchants of Doubt is a documentary that looks at the faces that have been utilized in order to deny global warming being caused by humans. These individuals generally aren't scientific authorities, but they pose as them in the face of the public in the attempt to fool us. Director Robert Kenner explores this by also pursuing related publicity schemes, such as the campaigns revolving around toxic chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

Sony Pictures Classics' film begins by talking about magic tricks and the thought behind them. Why are we talking to magicians in a documentary about global climate change? Well, it's used as a direct metaphor to the tricks that these huge companies pull on the public. Are we being fooled by a publicity sleight of hand? Especially in America, we're constantly told that all of the industrialization that we're doing is great for our growth, but it just can't be good for the environment. If you look close enough, the campaign for promoting industrial growth is dangerously similar to that of the tobacco industry years back. Merchants of Doubt begins by revealing the dirty tricks that are being pulled, as the lobbyists fight to keep any government bills from moving forward. In their eyes, the more that they can delay any progress, the better. The metaphors being utilized are quite smart, and the sources that they bring in are equally intriguing about the subject.

At this point in the documentary, it might appear as if Kenner simply brought in one perspective without directly addressing that of the other side of the debate. In order to give the film a slightly more balanced outlook, it's important to provide the other side of the argument, even if most of the viewers will disagree with the ridiculous claims and excuses made to deny global climate change. In the second act, Kenner speaks with some conservatives who simply refuse to budge from the idea that global warming does not exist, and even those who do accept the data, often believe that humans have nothing to do with it. The film takes a very obvious stand, which believes in global climate change, and that humans are largely to blame. While the framework is something unique and new, the core of the material itself is all content that many of us have heard before. If you weren't aware of this, then you'll be glad to know that the information is presented in a smart and concise fashion. These bits of knowledge are provided through the perspectives of journalists, scientists, politicians, and more, allowing for a variety of different contexts in varying fields.

The final third of Merchants of Doubtcontinues to weave in and out of different industries, such as tobacco, and often uses more than just words to prove their points, as video and images are consistently utilized. We're referred back to the "art of the trick" by an expert magician, tying it all together. There really isn't anything necessarily wrong with the material, or how it's delivered. In fact, by the the time the credits start rolling, it feels like a rather complete picture, filled with rich knowledge for those who are uninformed on the matters being debated. However, this is a film that is largely directed towards audiences that already support this picture's points. The problem is that it likely won't change anybody's mind who firmly support the opposing side. Those who don't believe in global warming are extremely unlikely to even sit down and watch an entire documentary on the matter, anyways.

Director Robert Kenner explores many commonly-known pieces of information about a critical subject that continues to be applicable today. By working with the unique framework of the art of the magician, he still manages to bring something new to the table of documentaries about global climate change. His position is clear, but he provides a balanced group of individuals from both sides of the argument in order to create a dialogue. The documentary remains captivating for its entire duration. It isn't afraid to add the occasional humor to the display of knowledge, facts, and statistics. Merchants of Doubt tells the secrets of this political trick with an intriguing framework. Recommended.

Merchants of Doubt will play at AFI Fest 2014 on November 8th and November 11th.




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