By: Addison Wylie
When I watch a documentary like Harold Crooks’ The Price We Pay, I think about that sparsely attended audience who would enjoy a doc this dense.
I wonder how those movie goers find windows of fascination in a film that constantly slugs hefty loads of information towards them. How do they withstand this documentary that is so persistent to be dramatic through its B-roll, yet reels back when delivering essential facts? I don’t feel bad for that intended audience, but I wish dearly that they find ways to let their hair down.
Though Crooks’ The Price We Pay has plenty to say about tax avoidance and tax havens, I can’t find many words to express my boredom with the flick without being that blunt. Then again, after having a similar numb reaction to last year’s Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve, perhaps I’m not the right guy to be reviewing these types of political and financial films.
Whether I’m in the target audience or not, a documentary’s job is to inform and leave audiences feeling elated with newfound – or elaborated – knowledge about its subject. Harold Crooks has made a film that expresses zero interest in being accessible. It’s a film solely made for those who already have a pre-invested interest in the history The Price We Pay covers.
Crooks has, in fact, collected the right people to film and light his on-location interviews. There’s an undeniable competence to how each one-on-one has been set-up. However, I hated the guest introductions. The audience watches the interviewee and suddenly, the film dips to black and text blocks appear displaying their name and occupation before abruptly cutting back to listen to an opinion. Maybe this was the filmmaker’s way of spicing up his lower-third graphics, but stopping the movie’s rhythm was a deadly and amateur move.
Filmmakers: be honest with me. Is there an unwritten rule carved into a stone tablet stating that documentaries of this sort have to be impenetrable? Will we ever see a comprehensible movie about these sort of topics? It would take skill and the proper voice to speak to a wide crowd about such specifics, but I believe someday, a filmmaker will rise to the occasion. It may take a team of documentarians to turn the genre on its ear, but the hard work would be worth it if the insightful film ends up being considerate towards the common patron.
For now, we deal with movies like The Price We Pay, and keep our fingers crossed that this is the last movie of its kind.