If you know or understand any of the following things listed below, there’s absolutely no reason to see the snarky, brownnosing documentary Greedy Lying Bastards:
1. Climate change is a serious problem
2. Lobbyists and special interests have been ruining politics for decades and it only gets worse.
3. Oil companies and other polluters are inherently unethical and are always primarily focused on the bottom line.
As someone who considers himself a pretty left leaning guy politically, I feel the need to apologize for this film since it stoops to levels of pandering and self-aggrandizing that make Michael Moore seem like a silent monk. It’s aggressively annoying, and even worse than that it trivializes something that’s an actual societal problem by taking such an unwisely didactic approach that’s aimed squarely at the audience that already knows this information and not the people who would benefit from it the most.
Director Craig Rosebraugh and producer Daryl Hannah aim to expose big oil and climate change deniers (which for some reason are always referred to here “denialists” which I refuse to use since it’s a made up term) as the titular swindlers and frauds. From the likes of the infamous Koch Brothers (operators of the largest company in the States “you’ve never heard of” and huge names in the manufacturing and power lobby) to the likes of Oklahoma state senator and all around cantankerous guy James Inhofe (who gets most of campaign money from big oil), these are the people that see no correlation between killer storms, droughts, and failing crops and increased oil and coal emissions being blown off by such people because “carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.”
The ultimate goal is to take the viewer to the front line of the science vs. pseudoscience and politics vs. big business debate, but instead there’s just a giant soapbox and a screaming, sarcastic guy with a megaphone stomping his feet atop of it. I understand the need and desire to shout from the rooftops when there are important issues getting ignored. I understand the need for protest. I understand why there should be a film made about this topic, but Rosebraugh’s production serves no one well. It’s so basic and impersonal that it’s hard to tell what audience the film is being pitched at, but the constant use of flashy infographics, “dootdootdoot” typing sound effects whenever a name comes up on screen, and name checking of other vastly more recognizable films and events suggests it’s trying to act as some sort of primer.
It’s way too basic to be interesting to anyone who has followed the issue, yet Rosebraugh’s own smug “Psssh, yeah, I believe THAT” style of narration suggests he’s only talking to a group of close personal friend rather than anyone who would be interested in learning more about the issue. It’s not a serious or well rounded discussion. There’s research and interviews to be certain, but unlike the work of someone like a Michael Moore, this is simply a hit and run. There aren’t any balls to back up the workload, and it’s proof that snark responding in kind to already snide and suspect viewpoints doesn’t do anyone any good. It becomes so predictable after a while that it’s obvious when Rosebraugh appears on camera to try and call a dissenting party, that anyone who has seen this kind of documentary can already tell from how it’s staged and edited that not only will he not get through to anyone, but that he will make an uppity joke out of it. To further the obvious tone, he also at one point busts out a montage of kids while a song drones on about how we’re “stealing from our future.” I’ve been in drum circles more subdued and far more enlightened.
Making it even more frustrating is a tease early on that Rosebraugh would actually take some time out of the movie to talk about human causality and how we ALL have to work on bettering the environment, but it’s quickly abandoned and dropped. There’s a hint of humanism here, but even that proves to be as disingenuous as if it had been read from Cliff Notes on the same subject. The personal stories given the most time to breathe – the plight of people living in Kivalina, Alaska and the nation of Tuvalu – are lifted almost entirely from two better films that deal with these same issues far more brilliantly and presciently (Kivaliva Vs. Exxon and Trouble in Paradise, respectively).
The only brief moment of insight in the film that doesn’t get talked about enough is the repression in the US government of the National Climate Change Assessment, which you would think would be a big deal, but is only given about five minutes of hard analysis. The real meat of the film and what people could learn the most from is the actual footage of these people incriminating themselves on television or in print or with hard facts being presented to him. There’s no need to underline it. It’s powerful stuff already. Shoving it down the throats of what you consider to be “the masses” simply makes you an elitist that thinks the viewer would be far too stupid to get it on their own.
And yet, I agree with what’s being said. The point is that as a film critic, I hate the way it’s being said. The best suggestion that I have to anyone wanting to see the provocatively titled Greedy Lying Bastards – which now in hindsight and that I’ve got it out of my system really tells you all you need to know about the film – is to not bother. Go watch one of the vastly better films I mentioned before or seek out Chasing Ice if it’s still showing in your area. Go listen to a podcast or track down an episode of a television show that has David Suzuki or Bill Nye speaking on the issue, as they’re both level headed people who can argue with grace and wit and a far better introduction than this. The environment needs our help, but this sure as heck ain’t helping.
Directed by: Craig Scott Rosebraugh