"Freak" on a Leash.

by Eric Kohn
May 2, 2010 4:34 AM
1 Comment
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Shortly after my review of the Tribeca Film Festival closing night entry Freakonomics went live on indieWIRE, an acquaintance e-mailed me with a link to this definitive critique of the movie's source material. In short, the author explains how economics suffers from a "cleverness problem," an issue that the best-selling book epitomized to the fullest degree. With its playful melding of pop culture and calculated number-crunching, Freakonomics undeniably contains a smarmy quality that turns off demanding readers in much the same way that it attracts others. But can we level this complaint against the movie? I think the standards are different. Whereas the book takes a journalistic approach, the movie aims to become thoughtful entertainment -- something you can watch and enjoy while benefiting from the information contained in the story. As a documentary (or, rather, documentaries, since it's actually composed of four short pieces), Freakonomics contains several distinct nonfiction narratives that work on their own terms. Beyond unraveling the book's arguments, they also make them come alive in cinematic terms. Does this qualify as a "cleverness problem"? Hard to say.

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1 Comment

  • Rick Allen | May 2, 2010 1:39 AMReply

    Eric: I'm with you on this one. A film aiming to engender public discussion, as this one is, has to utilize every entertainment device to attract and retain public attention. There's a reason economics has always been known as the "dismal science" - Freakonomics has the first prospect in a long time of bringing important ideas to a broader public, and especially given the crises of recent years, we'll all be better for it.

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