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An Unreasonable Man

An Unreasonable Man

Not rated, 122 min. Directed by Henriette Mantel, Steve Skrovan.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 23, 2007

If you're under the age of, say, 35, it will be strange to see Ralph Nader, in the early Seventies, disavowing any intention to run for the presidency on The Mike Douglas Show, flanked by no less than John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Nader, the greatest and most idealistic champion of consumer rights in the nation's history, may more likely be remembered by future generations as the nettlesome, stubborn fulcrum upon which the 2000 Presidential race rested, tilting, in the end and with no small amount of juris-impudence on the part of the highest court in the land, to the conservative right. (It's of no small irony, too, that both Bush and Nader's native state is Connecticut, despite wherever the current occupant of the White House might be found clearing brush.) Irony and unwavering idealism are bound up in this lengthy but instantly engaging and informative documentary on the "trustee of the guy on the highway," as Nader refers to himself. Eschewing narration or direct questioning, the directors instead employ a vast archive of consistently engaging clips from Nader's many congressional battles (most famously, bringing General Motors to their apologetic knees after their ham-fisted attempts to smear Nader in the wake of his Unsafe at Any Speed automobile safety screed), interviews with old allies (President Jimmy Carter) and older nemeses (Presidents Reagan-through-G.W. Bush), and a wealth of historical data that, far from seeming like the dry polemics one might expect from a documentary about an egregiously righteous man who has always seemed two chortles short of a sense of humor, is in fact much less long-winded than this sentence. Then again, as a post-Nader driver I've got all the airbags I need, and thanks to Mr. Nader, the next time I slam head-on into a busload of orphans, I won't have to worry about the steering column punching through my sternum and out the trunk. The final third of An Unreasonable Man (the title is taken from George Bernard Shaw) enters into Nader's quixotic bids for the 2000 and 2004 presidency, and is in the end the least satisfying part of the film, chiefly because the events are so fresh in the public mind, no matter which side of the political fence you're currently falling off of. (See related interview on p.50 of this week's Screens section.)
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