Starring Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Freakonomics is a documentary style adaptation of the best selling book by Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Named the “most blogged about book” of 2005 and 2006 by the New York Times, Freakonomics: a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything applies data analysis to a range of common beliefs and statistics about our world to yield surprising results about seemingly causal relationships and human behavior. Sounds pretty interesting, right? Not so much.
Producer Chad Troutwine enlisted a team of A-list documentary filmmakers to direct five different segments of this film in vignettes focusing on real estate, parenting, cheating, crime, and bribery. This, in and of itself, is an interesting choice. Each segment had it’s own tone and style in addition to its content, which made for a visually dynamic film. Unfortunately, the subject matter was a little lacking in the blow-your-mind department.
The film introduces us to Freakonomics, Levitt, and Dubner with an illustration of how real estate agents usually wait longer for a larger bid when selling their own homes than when they sell one for their clients. This segment was concluded with the statement that real estate agents aren’t necessarily looking out for what’s best for you, but what is best for them. I could be wrong, but unless you live in the land of puppies and rainbows, it probably would not come as a surprise that someone would rather move on to the next deal than working an extra week for 2.5% commission on a possible $10,000 increase on a home offer.
This would not be the first disappointment in a film based on a book that supposedly “dazzled readers with ideas that blew away conventional wisdom”. What is mind-blowing, however, is the fact that initial readers of the book were apparently dazzled by the fact that people cheat when given the incentive to, and that the name you are given at birth has less to do with your performance in life than having good parents. Thank goodness that Levitt and Dubner applied rigorous analytical data to prove that you can name your kid Winner and still get a loser.
The film did present some very interesting conclusions when it came to crime rates in the 90’s, and how police investigations are chosen, but neither were worthy of their ten-minute presentation as to how these economists came to these determinations. It seemed as though the directors were given the task of glorifying Levitt and Dubner’s analytical work when a simple sentence as to the truth of what they found given the statistical evidence or suppositions could have been enough.
The upsides of this film are the graphics and cinematography. The documentarians who directed this film aren’t award-winners for nothing. The vignette on cheating entitled ‘Pure Corruption’ that examined the yaocho, or bout-fixing, apparent in Japan’s Sumo Wrestling despite it’s sacred status, was absolutely beautiful to watch. Likewise, the animated sequences, though very different depending on the segment, were clever, fun, and visually informative. The problem was, the information they were illustrating was often gratuitous and repetitive only to yield a completely expected response.
The most interesting segment of the film, directed by academy-award winners Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, was one that followed two ninth graders through a monetary incentive program to improve their grades in school. Using their trademark style of simple, clean filmmaking combined with humor and comedic timing with actual, “live” subjects, they managed to pull off a thought-provoking ending to this otherwise dull fact-fest.
It is with great sadness that we at Get The Big Picture put our beloved Damn Dirty Apes to bed with a mere two. They have been lovely pets, and we would have wished to bring you more on their last trip on the rating scale, but such is life. After much consideration and votes from our devoted fans, we have chosen a new rating system beginning at the end of this week! Farewell dear apes, you have served us well!