In 2005, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner's bestseller
Freakonomics became a cultural touchstone. The book showed that a host of
unexplainable phenomena could be explained by
counter-intuitive reasoning. Now an indie documentary inspired by the title has arrived in select theaters. Armed with five
teams of directors, it aims to illustrate the same wonky ideas
in film. These helmers include the
talent behind Super Size Me
, Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room
, Jesus Camp
and Taxi To The Dark Side
a who's-who of recently successful documentary filmmakers. But
does the movie convey the nuance and statistical prowess of
the authors? More than a few dissenting reviewers found
it an unwieldy viewing experience.
- 'Like Leafing Through a Glossy Magazine' is how The New York Times' Stephen Holdren describes it. While it has awkward transitions
between some parts, it is mostly successful in using "multiple
techniques like witty animation and man-on-the-street interviews to
illustrate the book’s theories." Still, Holdren finds it "shallow but diverting." He also notes that the "most
problematic episode," which examines falling crime rates in the 1990s, presents the theory that abortion contributed to the crime drop as as "purely speculative."
- Surprisingly Invigorating writes
Kyle Smith at The New York Post. "Seldom do documentaries set out in
honest pursuit of hidden truths," but this one hits the mark aside from
the "unwise" choice to hand the segments' reins over to multiple
directors. "The movie is an eye-opener, a number-cruncher's corrective
to the way two fields dominated by lazy thinking (cinema and journalism)
analyze using whatever anecdotes confirm their biases."
It Has Lost Appeal The book's"commercial success reflected the
once-fashionable notion that economics could explain, well, everything,"
NPR's Mark Jenkins. "After two years of recession and weak recovery,
that idea has lost its appeal. So the movie version of Freakonomics
functions as a reasonably effective trailer, but for a book whose moment
has already passed." Even with that disclaimer, Jenkins thought the
"basically faithful" adaptation was a, "brisk and visually inventive
- Fails to Grasp the Finer Points of the research and analysis that made the book such a hit in the first place, concludes
Tasha Robinson at The Onion A.V. Club. Some of the mini-documentaries are
patronizing and others rely on "ridiculously dramatized anecdotes."
Another unfortunate part is that the documentary could have used the
original authors more often: "Gordon’s personal, lively, funny link
segments hint frustratingly at a Levitt-and-Dubner-focused film that
might have been."
- 'Peppy Economic Determinism Makes for Lousy Cinema' finds
Ty Burr at The Boston Globe. The only part of the film that Burr
appears to recommend is the segment called "Can a Ninth Grader
Be Bribed To Succeed?" He explains: "This is the only part of
'Freakonomics' that focuses on individuals: a live-wire teenage screw-up
named Urail and a baby-faced junior thug named Kevin. One succeeds, the
other doesn’t, and what have we learned? That statistics don’t always
tell the whole story and that the movie has unaccountably missed the
real story, which is how and why these kids are falling through the
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