Bastards is old news

Director Craig Scott Rosebraugh is clearly very aware of his film’s precarious position. On one hand, the film argues that doubts around global warming are so flagrantly opposed to scientific consensus that they’re not even worth discussing – which is true – but on the other hand, the film is in part a contribution to that discussion.

And, as is cheerfully demonstrated by the title, the film has very little interest in taking the high ground.

Greedy Lying Bastards is essentially an attempt at public shaming. Borrowing the approach of its much more effective predecessor Inside Job, the film attempts to put distinct human faces on the agents of climate destruction and political muddling. Simultaneously, it delves into their backgrounds to expose the complex web of deceit that blah blah blah. Of course, it’s the “blahs” that are the problem.

It’s not that lies and outrageous conflicts of interest in the US government aren’t appalling (they are) and it’s not that Rosebraugh doesn’t meticulously prove his claims (he does). It’s just that we’ve seen it all before, and while the truth is almost always worth telling; it’s not necessarily always worth filming. Cutthroat selfishness from corporate executives like David Koch, obvious ulterior motives for high-ups like Clarence Thomas, and brazen garbage peddling from Fox “News” all raise the blood pressure, but it’s hard to shock in such familiar territory. Fair or not, mainstream media will always win the saturation war, so repetition is probably best left to them; it unfortunately falls to dedicated filmmakers like Rosebraugh to constantly innovate their approaches and their information. At certain points during Bastards, it’s hard not to feel like the film arrives a bit late.

Of course, the film’s focus on climate change deniers, such as activist Myron Ebell, Senator James Inhofe, and public speaker Christopher Monckton, is somewhat unique. It quickly becomes apparent, though, that these men represent the setting of a fairly low bar for Bastards. Their arguments are so deeply moronic that it’s barely necessary to counter them – one stern-faced interviewee blames sun spots for global warming, another suggests that underwater volcanoes are responsible for dangerous levels of CO2 – and the viewer gets the sense that just filming any of these people uninterrupted for a few minutes would do sufficient damage to their reputations.

Rosebraugh, though, isn’t always content to let people embarrass themselves. There’s a quietly passive-aggressive bent to the presentation of many of the film’s targets. Senator Inhofe bounces up in an infographic like a cartoon erection, complete with “boi-oi-oing” sound effect; Clarence Thomas is repeatedly shown in a particularly unflattering still frame; Christopher Monckton is ever-so-subtly framed and lit to accentuate his bulging eyes. It’s as though Rosebraugh doesn’t trust that footage of Monckton denouncing scientists in a US-flag suit, outfitted with cowboy hat and overtly dangling crucifix, isn’t proof enough of his buffoonery. But it is, painfully so. We don’t need to be told that these people are idiots; we need to be told what to do about them.

And here, though it at least makes an attempt, is where the film really fizzles. Preceding a well-intentioned concluding monologue, which attempts to raise pulses and focus outrage, the film offers plans for action. I’ll paraphrase:

1. Boycott the bad guys
2. Write congress about the bad guys
3. Get involved in stopping subsidies for the bad guys

It’s in these summarizing arguments that the film’s superficiality becomes unmistakeable. Greedy Lying Bastards isn’t a bad film; its arguments are valid, its supporting subjects eloquent, its topics overwhelmingly relevant. Thing is, we probably need to be doing a bit more, just now, than calling people names.

Greedy Lying Bastards is playing at The Rio Theatre.  For more info: http://riotheatre.ca