Directed by Jennifer Abbott, Mark Achbar, Joel Bakan. Narrated by Mikela J. Mikael. (2003, NR, 145 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 24, 2004
To the degree to which this documentary sticks to its initial subject, The Corporation is an amazing work – abundantly informative, visually arresting, and endlessly thought-provoking. Based on the book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan (who is also the film's screenwriter), The Corporation does a wonderful job of rendering egghead economic concepts accessible. The opening hour of the movie contains its strongest material: laying out the history of corporations, a history that really begins to take off on the wings of the Industrial Revolution and the alteration of legal definitions to provide corporations with more freedoms. The change involves the evolution of corporations from entities formed to accomplish specific goals to the acceptance of corporate business as "legal persons" entitled to the rights of other citizens. The film shows how the 14th Amendment to the Constitution (the one outlawing slavery and granting equal freedoms to all men) has been used more often than not to defend the rights of corporate "citizens" rather than individual citizens. It’s eye-opening material, and scattered among all the interviews with some of the usual (Howard Zinn, Michael Moore, and Noam Chomsky, about whom co-director Mark Achbar previously made Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media) and not so usual (Milton Friedman, various whistle-blowers, and titans of industry) subjects, The Corporation employs a wealth of visual matter to drive home its points and keep things ever-watchable. The thrust of the movie’s case is that corporations, if indeed they wish to be judged as legal persons, are pathologically antisocial beings, legally bound to put their owners’ and shareholders’ interests above the public good. They engage in psychopathic behaviors that would get ordinary individuals tossed behind bars. Somewhere around the movie’s midpoint, the filmmakers become caught up in their own rhetoric and wander into tangents about consumerism and branding and other corporate evils. With a two-hour-plus running time, these side issues come across as unnecessary weight and threaten to turn off the very viewers the filmmakers worked so hard and so ably to win over in the first place. It’s a shame, because there’s at least one great hour of filmmaking in The Corporation. The filmmakers, like the corporations, need to learn that bigger is not always better.