August 21, 2008
America’s Debts Add Up in ‘I.O.U.S.A.’
By Bob Strauss Film Critic
Documentarian Patrick Creadon, whose last film, "Wordplay," made the topic of crossword puzzles as scintillating as it could possibly get, tackles another potentially mind-numbing subject in "I.O.U.S.A." And he does a nice job of making the daunting math and economic theories associated with our national debt accessible.
But he didn't need to try so hard. The nation's financial condition is so out of control that you'll either watch the film in horror-stricken fascination or run screaming out of the theater from the hopelessness of it all.
The good news is that America has been running deficits off and on (mostly on) since the Revolutionary War, and the nation has generally prospered anyway.
The bad news is, the one we've got now is the worst by far, and with massive commitments to programs such as Social Security and Medicare looming as the baby boom demographic reaches retirement age, debt-reduction solutions seem few and painful.
You might suspect that, by pointing this out, Creadon's film pushes a conservative economic philosophy. It doesn't really seem to, though, since "I.O.U.S.A." makes it clear that most of the current federal debt was run up during the Republican Reagan and Bush II administrations, with a brief period of semi-balanced budgets under Democrat Clinton in between.
Power Point graphics lend some visual panache to the numbers presentations.
Many experts, officials and affected regular folks are interviewed, but Creadon focuses primarily on former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker and Bob Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group that tries to spread the word about the looming debt crisis. Neither are the most charismatic men in the world, but as Bixby and Walker are followed on their bare-bones, national "Fiscal Wake-Up Tour," their message gains weighty, detailed credence.
They try to be optimistic about it. But you still leave "I.O.U.S.A." feeling like your mortgage payment just ballooned on the day you lost your job.
Running time: 1 hr. 30 min.
Playing: Showing at a select number of theaters at 7:30tonight (see note at bottom of review). Opens Friday at Sunset 5, West Hollywood; Century Stadium 25, Orange; University Town Center, Irvine.
At 7:30 Thursday night, a special screening of "I.O.U.S.A." will be held at a number of theaters in Southern California, followed by a tape-delayed, 45-minute panel discussion with Walker and big finance guys such as Warren Buffet. For tickets and info, click here.
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