Freakonomics (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner03/12/2010

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 85 mins

Engaging, entertaining and frequently fascinating documentary, though some of the sections are less successful than others and their relevance to the central theme isn't always obvious.

What's it all about?
Freakonomics is a documentary comprised of four short films by different directors, each illustrating various economic theories from the best-selling book by “rogue” economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner. The pair also appear as talking heads in each of the four films as well as in linking sections directed by The King of Kong director Seth Gordon, the first of which lays out the book's primary theme about the way in which incentives can be used to explain people's behaviour.

The four shorts are as follows: A Roshanda by Any Other Name, in which director Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) explores the lack of correlation between a person's name and their success in life; Pure Corruption, in which director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) looks at corruption in Sumo wrestling; Eugene Jarecki's animated section It's Not Always a Wonderful Life, which finds a shocking connection between the legalisation of abortion and a drop in crime rates twenty years later; and Can a Ninth Grader be Bribed to Succeed? by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp), which follows two 14-year-old students to see if their grades improve when their Chicago school conducts a controversial experiment where pupils are offered financial rewards for better results.

The Good
Levitt and Dubner make an engaging double act and present some genuinely fascinating theories – the sequence that illustrates why you should never listen to your estate agent is particularly eye-opening. The short films are equally entertaining and informative, though only the Sumo film and the bribery experiment seem directly tied to the central theme.

The Bad
That said, despite all being well made, each of the sections has its own problems and they often feel shallow and under explored as a result of time constraints. Spurlock's film is frustrating because it concludes that there's no relation between a name and success while clearly illustrating that the opposite is true (when it demonstrates that obviously black names take longer to find jobs than their white equivalents); similarly, the bribery experiment takes no account of personality and aptitude and the film refuses to address its own obvious flaws.

Worth seeing?
Freakonomics is an engaging, likeable documentary that examines some thought-provoking theories, though some of the shorts might have worked better as in depth, full length features. Worth seeing.

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Content updated: 21/07/2018 20:41

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