Maxed Out

Maxed Out

2007, NR, 90 min. Directed by James D. Scurlock.

REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., March 16, 2007

To the list of great and terrifying movie monsters – from King Kong 1933 to King Kong 2005 – we can now add the multiheaded hydra of the credit industry, the most horrible beast of them all. With tentacles that stretch from the trailers of small-town America all the way to the White House and overseas to Iraq, this sinister creature has a seemingly unquenchable thirst for destruction and human misery. Run for your lives! Unlike Hollywood’s fictional creations, this particular menace isn’t interested in our brains or our skyscrapers; it’s after our wallets, and its insatiable appetite is sending our federal government crashing toward financial insolvency and condemning the rest of us to long lives of high interest rates, hidden fees, and late-night harassment from debt collectors. (We’d be better off getting eaten alive by huge fire-breathing lizards.) Like any good populist, Scurlock sees the credit system in America as one designed to pad the pockets of the rich and powerful while sucking the life out of decent, hard-working folks who’ve been unlucky enough to fall for the gilded promises of the credit-card companies, banks, and loan houses. Being in debt doesn’t mean you’re irresponsible, their slithery argument goes, or that you’re a failure. In fact, in a country where the least financially stable among us are the most profitable customers the credit companies have, you’re doing your civic duty by missing payments and spending money that isn’t yours. It’s your debt, they proudly proclaim, that greases the wheels of our great economy and keeps America moving. Like Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) before him, Scurlock sets his sights on vast money-motivated conspiracies and doesn’t rest until he finds them. He doesn’t have to look far, what with George Bush nominating the former chairman of a credit-card issuer that was found guilty of defrauding its customers to a post as the new “corporate cleanup czar” and MBNA (“the world’s largest independent credit card issuer” and Bush’s No. 1 campaign contributor) writing our anti-bankruptcy legislation. If Scurlock stopped there, his movie (which had its world premiere at SXSW 2006) would be merely fun and fascinating in the way all big-government/big-business conspiracies are. But he also takes us inside the lives of some of the casualties of this national mess, most of them decent enough people from small towns and cities who never dreamed when they signed up for those credit cards at the grocery store or on their college campus that their signatures would result in bankruptcy, homelessness, divorce, and even death. Hide the children; the beast is at the door. AFS@Dobie

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Maxed Out, James D. Scurlock

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