The End of Poverty?
2009, NR, 104 min. Directed by Philippe Diaz. Narrated by Martin Sheen.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 18, 2009
A didactic documentary that covers ground already trampled to death by countless other films, books, magazine articles, and grad-student theses, The End of Poverty? is, in essence, a sort of Capitalism, Colonialism, and Cronyism 101. It hits all the right notes (well, most of them) in the argument against globalization and rampant U.S.-led corporate imperialism, but it rarely supersedes or improves on its pedantic predecessors. This isn't to say that The End of Poverty? is a bad film, per se, but only that it's unlikely to change anyone's mind, be they Rush Limbaugh or Ralph Nader. The film preaches to the proverbial choir most of the time, and when it offers something new – for instance, the idea that all poverty woes can be traced back to 1492 and the discovery and conquering of the Americas by Spain – it slips into theorizing and potentially fuzzy historical and empirical evidence. Diaz loves both his facts and the talking-head interviewees who lend support to them (among the many scientists and global economy wonks on hand are political scientist Susan George, Eric Toussaint of the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt, and New York University professor of economics William Easterly). While the speakers’ many, many arguments against Western colonialism are sound, few offer much along the lines of encouragement, which leaves Diaz to focus on rehashing the already well-documented crimes against humanity committed by everyone from the big pharmaceutical conglomerates to the looters of crude oil, African minerals, and the sort of globalization-sanctioned policies that eviscerate the Third World while fattening the first. Yes, it's enlightening, but this is hardly revelatory news. As narrated by a dour Sheen, Diaz's documentary is more dispiriting than anything, although at times it raises the moral hackles and puts you in exactly the right frame of mind (frustrated, enraged) to ponder the efficacy of tossing a Molotov cocktail through the window of your local Bank of America or McDonald's.