November 17, 2005

Wal-Mart exposed in discount-budget film

By Frank Scheck

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of
Low Price," the latest documentary from Robert Greenwald
("Outfoxed," "Uncovered"), continues the filmmaker's penchant
for cinematic social muckraking.

A damning indictment of the corporate practices of
America's retailing behemoth and largest private employer, the
film lacks the cinematic panache to elevate it above the level
of agitprop. But its all too relevant dissection of its subject
is well worth paying attention to, and the film, which is
receiving a limited theatrical release, could stir up trouble
with its DVD release.

Looking like a bit of a rush job, the film examines the
numerous issues raised by Wal-Mart's domination of the retail
landscape, from the low wages and lack of health benefits for
its employees to its evisceration of America's small businesses
to its gender and ethnic stereotyping to its use of sweatshops
in China to its union busting. Even the store parking lots come
under scrutiny, via a detailing of the numerous crimes
committed in them because of their lack of supervision.

Greenwald relies heavily on interviews with disgruntled
employees, footage of CEO Lee Scott in which the executive does
an excellent job of making himself and his company look less
than ideal and a steady procession of damning facts and
statistics provided via onscreen titles. The film is
straightforward and rudimentary, with the occasional exception
of segments like a visual montage of shuttered mom-and-pop
stores accompanied by Bruce Springsteen's plaintive rendition
of "This Land Is Your Land."

Far more notable for its sociological relevance than its
stylistic qualities, which are basically low to nil, "Wal-Mart"
feels like the contemporary cinematic equivalent of a 1960s-era
underground newspaper.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter