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Greedy Lying Bastards

(2013) ** 1/2 Pg-13
90 min. One Earth Productions. Director: Craig Scott Rosebraugh.

/content/films/4482/1.jpgThe term "confirmation bias" has been around since 1960, but its use seems to have picked up in our heavily partisan recent history. To look at our media is to see political belief that's entirely polar in America—to take one obvious example, the plain leanings of Fox News on one side and MSNBC on the other (to show my own bias: it's clear one of those networks presents facts in a coherent context while the other labors to spin them).

And so we come to Greedy Lying Bastards, a movie obviously content to preach to its choir. The audience for director Craig Rosebraugh's documentary—that is, an eager liberal crowd—is right in sync with Rosebraugh in embracing the brazen prejudice of that title: the literal pre-judgement of the film's subjects before the present presentation of any facts. We've already made up our minds whether that title is accurate or not as it concerns the film's literal poster boys (including Bush and Cheney), so why bother to watch the movie?

Greedy Lying Bastards makes a case that is demonstrably true, if better made elsewhere: that lobbyists for special interests, and the elite of billionaire people and corporate "people," are hijacking our political system and media to stonewall efforts to arrest global climate change. While one could also take potshots at political spending by liberal billionaires, at least they don't say "nah nah nah nah nah, I'm not listening!" when it comes to the science of climate change.

The film reserves special ire for the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil, whose CEO Rex Tillerson Rosebraugh pursues Michael Moore-style (achieving minimal "climactic" results), but also perp-walks, documentary-style, well-compensated science-denying pundits. The director proves most effective when plainly stating the laughably misleading names and actual sponsors of corporate-funded "astroturfing" organizations, those seemingly grassroots groups designed to obfuscate and arrest political progress.

But Rosebraugh spends much too much time whipping up emotional appeals (the self-evident harm of families left homeless by climate-change disasters), and is willing to obfuscate for his own purposes, as when fancy graphics suggest smoking guns where there aren't any (a riff on Citizens United and Clarence Thomas that's circumstantial old news treated as conclusive new math). Yes, where there's smoke, there's almost certainly fire, but if Rosebraugh has nothing new to bring to the table, what's the point?

Even if Rosebraugh could attract a far-right audience to his movie (and, let's face it, that ain't happening), its tone and spirit are in no way inviting to those who currently hold opposing viewpoints on these issues. And the film isn't a worldbeater as either old-school journalism of rigorous reportage or dazzling showmanship (two qualities Moore has winningly combined). So perhaps Greedy Lying Bastards will be of most use as a time capsule of sorts, a snapshot of ire against money infesting American politics at a global turning point.  

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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