Movie Review by Jonathan Harvey
Starring: Mikela J Mikael (narrator), Jane Akre, Ray Anderson, Joe Badaracco
Directors: Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott
THE CORPORATION feels like the start of a new sub-genre of factual filmmaking – the documentary ‘epic’. At almost two and a half hours long, this detailed and fascinating look at what it calls ‘today’s dominant institution’ is definitely not meant to offer a light-hearted trip to the flicks, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t a trip worth making.
The film sets out by announcing that, according to US law, the corporation is legally a ‘person’, and from this starting point attempts to discover what sort of personality it possesses. The unsettling conclusion is that it shares the same fundamental disorders suffered by a psychopath. Each of these disorders is then considered in turn and through interviews with key figures a powerful argument is built demonstrating how some multinationals have become simply too influential, and how their single-minded pursuit of profit is wreaking havoc both to people and the planet. As the story is told, the filmmakers (Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan) spice up the serious subject matter with some neat flashes of wry humour, be it through anecdotes, video or old educational animations, although by the end this becomes an over-reliance on clips of Michael Moore stunts.
The main weakness of the movie is that throughout its monumental running time it tries to keep the impression of being objective while in truth it is a searing polemic against the very nature of the corporation itself. So although it is highly effective in exploring and explaining the corporation’s serious problems, it lacks balance and none of its talking heads offer any concrete alternative vision: do they think the means of production be returned to the State? It’s all left unsaid. This isn’t to say the film should be held to account for not having the answers to the big questions, but such a huge project offered a golden opportunity to explore them further.
Where the film shines is in how it brings out corporate corruption and failure, especially in a devastating exposure of Mon Santo: an American multinational which continues to inject American cows with a chemical to increase milk production (a practice banned in many other countries, including the UK), and which for a long time used its power to stop this story being broadcast on US news. The revelation is startling and is told with both zeal and style, although the lack of other detailed examples makes it feel slightly isolated as a case study.
But while THE CORPORATION is certainly not flawless it’s fascinating, both because of the sheer scale and freshness of the undertaking and because its critique of this global institution is so powerful and timely. For both these reasons overall it is a simply stunning watch, and it’s a film that can’t fail to make you sit up and think.