Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Starring Russell Brand
Comedian turned activist Russell Brand teams with noted British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom for this polemical (seriously, it even says that in the publicity materials) documentary that uses the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis as a vector for Brand to expound his political views.
Brand’s thesis is nothing we haven’t heard before: the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, the middle class is on the endangered species list, and the systems of oversight put in place to protect us from rapacious, unfettered capitalism have been undermined to the point of uselessness. The system is broken, Brand says, illustrating his point by contrasting the sheer injustice of financiers getting away with their billion-pound misdeeds scot free against the heavy sentences imposed upon convicted rioters and looters. In frantic and scattershot fashion, Brand and Winterbottom try to encapsulate seemingly the entire length and breadth of financial malfeasance,from tax avoidance to government bailouts, to insider trading to underemployment to real estate rorting. The scale of the corruption is staggering, even overwhelming, but Brand serves as an amiable, engaging focal point, using his very presence to transmute helplessness and despair into hope and determination – at least for the running time of the film.
The thing is, he’s preaching to the choir. I can’t see Brand’s Michael Moore-inspired antics reaching anyone who isn’t already in ideological alignment with him, and for all his man-of-the-people posturing, there remains a sense of distance between our messianic narrator and the put-upon working poor he is trying to politicise: it’s easy enough to chant at the barricades when you have the resources to rent an advertising truck to symbolically but uselessly exhort London crowds to “shop a banker”; it’s a whole different kettle of fish when the bills are due and there’s no food on the table.
Still, Brand’s acting out of genuine concern here, and it’s difficult to fault his intentions. The Emperor’s New Clothes is certainly more accessible than previous films on the subject, such as Inside Job and Margin Call, but it’s hard to imagine it having any greater real world effect.