Unreasonable Man (An) (2006)
R1 - America - Genius Products
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (30th July 2007).
The Film

The United States often creates passionate thoughts and views. Although some other countries have gained more status in the recent years (e.g. Russia), The U.S. is the only true “superpower” in the world. For millions it represents “evil”, for millions of others “greatness” and for many others it’s an enigma. Many know the country only through TV news and entertainment. Whatever their opinion might be, many will admit that their political field is an interesting one. It can often be entertaining. The outcome of Presidential Elections has an impact that reaches all over the world - in both good and bad ways. At the same time it’s like a well-scripted film; it has drama, joy and sadness - it has humor, controversy and passion. It captivates and alienates. It’s a very serious event, but it’s also a game. In that Presidential game, the winner takes it all and the loser usually gets nothing. Perhaps a page on Wikipedia, but that’s usually it. However, there are still some political figures that have gained more than just a page, even when they’ve been on the “losing side” more than once. Ralph Nader is one of them.

Nader, no stranger to political discussions and debates at home, where his Lebanon born father tried to teach his son to “think” and make a stand when necessary, which is what he did. Nader started as a lawyer in the late 1950’s and during that time he wrote the article “The Safe Car You Can't Buy”. This began his crusade against the American car industry. What may seem almost unbelievable today, it took several years and various battles before basic things like seat bells and air bags would be fully incorporated standards into American automobiles (quote from Henry Ford II at the time: “Airbags are a lot of baloney.”). As a result of these lax safety guidelines for the manufacture of cars many lives were lost. General Motors even hired private detectives to find some “dirt” on Nader in order to stop him. They didn’t find anything.
The American car industry was just the first, but certainly not the last industry to feel the determination of Nader. Soon he was the number 1 “consumer crusader” of America, with many like-minded students and young activists behind him. With the help of these “Nader's Raiders” (as they were soon nicknamed), they “attacked” different parties of the government and big corporations, writing reports and books all for that “average Joe”, often against “Corporate America”. Nader owns a legislative record for the different acts he helped to create in America and he also created many foundations (such as the “Public Citizen” organization). While President Jimmy Carter - a democrat, was in the office, Nader was able to consult some of his issues with him, but the Ronald Reagan (a republican) era wasn’t so kind. There was constant speculation that Nader would run for the Presidency himself and this eventually happened in 1996 under the “Green Party”. This was merely a touch on the surface, but Nader also ran in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential Elections. In the 2000 elections he ultimately created controversy and debate (which partly still goes on, as you can see from the documentary); Republican George W. Bush and democrat Al Gore had a very close race (in Florida, Bush had only 537 additional votes) and there are people who blame Nader for “stealing” votes that without him would’ve gone to Gore. For some people it’s “thanks to Nader” that Bush was elected. While it’s almost impossible to know the decisive truth of Nader’s involvement to those elections, he became a hated figure for many democrats. Some also felt (many of his former supporters also) that he partly ruined his great legacy due to his Presidential campaigns and also compromised the work of the foundations he helped to create. To make things even worse, Nader also ran in the 2004 Presidential Election (As an Independent). In that time, many of his former supporters (like e.g. Michael Moore) rose against him and some old friends felt that they needed some distance. His shining star fell from the sky, even though Nader would probably never admit it. “An Unreasonable Man” tells the story of a controversial man in a controversial country.

The basic structure of the documentary is quite simple. It has multiple interviews - along with photos, news- and other TV-footage along the way. There’s no narration, only selected text and graphical segments where needed. The words are what matter. Among Nader himself, you’ll hear comments from his former co-workers (several “Nader's Raiders”), friends, biographers, journalists, political analyzers and also some of his relatives. A few “anti-Naders” also speak their mind. Although the subject matter is mainly “Ralph Nader”, the documentary tells plenty about America itself, especially about their two-party system (Democratic and Republican) vs. the “third parties”. It also gives plenty to think about when it comes to big corporations and their effect on the whole political field in America. Many average consumers probably don’t realize how hard it is to “change” things in the high political scheme of things, where there is tons of paperwork, many steps to take and people to lobby and almost always some kind of opposition. Good ideas can easily get buried in the system. You have to know how to play the game and even that might not be enough.

There is some surprising footage included and some very frank comments on both behalf and against Nader. Even with 2 hours running time (and basically on-going interviews), the documentary never gets boring and at least I would place this in the category of “essential viewing” for the documentary buffs. I still have to admit, that as a European it´s often hard to see all the small details and nuances from this type of subject matter and to fully understand the tricky “political language” that goes on (the complicated political and legislation structure in America doesn’t help either). No documentary is a “definite truth” and this is no exception. “An Unreasonable Man” probably slightly favors Nader and tends to underline that there aren’t “just two parties” in America, even when the general public and surprisingly also media have their focus pretty tightly on Democratic and Republican fronts. If one want to find a “statement” from the documentary, it´s probably that sometimes both major parties are not trust worthy and money can have its effect on both of them (even when the Republican party is often accused of being the “corporate occupied territory” from the two). You have to constantly question everything and that’s what the “third parties” are often doing. They’ll probably never truly challenge the two major ones, but they’re still an important part of American politics. Perhaps a few additional interviews and views from the people not agreeing with Nader would’ve been beneficial in order to give a wider perspective, since now some of them tend to be a bit “over the top”. Then again, I’m sure that with these documentaries, there are also people who simply decline to do an interview (one “making of”-featurette explaining the production process would’ve been nice). The documentary doesn’t go very deep on the personal life on Nader, mainly because he has always been a single workaholic (the word “hypomania” is also mentioned). This is the man that has truly dedicated his whole life to his work. While this is hardly a recommended way to spend your life, Ralph Nader can boldly say that he has achieved something for those average people, often against the huge corporations and major political steps. Has he been right all the time? Probably not. Do all people agree with him? Certainly not. Is he a controversial figure? Yes. Where his Presidential campaigns a grave political mistake? Watch the documentary and judge for yourself. One thing is certain; Ralph Nader won’t just be a footnote in the history books. For better and for worse, he’ll be remembered. And the story isn’t over yet. The documentary is directed by Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan.

Video

The documentary is presented in Anamorphic 1.78:1. While the new interview-segments are mostly sharp and clean, some of the archive TV-footage is taken from the several sources, not being always pristine (some of the material is in 4:3, but some looks “blown up” to 1.78.1). The colors tend to be a bit pale and there’s some edge enhancement, but no real complains. “Dual layer” discs are coded “R1” and the main feature runs 122:22 minutes (NTSC). There are 21 chapters.

Audio

English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (with Surround encoding) is the sole audio choice, along with English HoH and Spanish subtitles. The sound is crisp and clean and while the documentary is mainly “talking heads”, the music comes nicely from the surround-speakers via “Pro Logic” (recommended). Again, some TV-footage from the archives has a more mediocre audio.

Extras

Disc 1

The release is packed with additional extras. The first disc opens with some bonus trailers before the “Main menu” (they can be skipped) - all running 8:49 minutes; “Penelope (2006)”, “...So Goes the Nation (2006)”, “This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)”, and “I'm Boricua, Just So You Know! AKA Yo soy Boricua, pa'que tu lo sepas! (2006)”. Theatrical trailer for the film is also included, running 2:19 minutes. After these, all extras include optional English subtitles.

All “deleted scenes” are basically edited and extended sequences from the documentary. They include new material and interview segments, but some bits can be also found from the main feature. They also reveal a bit more about the personal life of Nader. My guess would be, that these are mainly edited to shorten the original running time.

-7 Deleted scenes (with “Play All” they run 29:31 minutes):
*The Congress Project (5:22 min)
*No Nukes (4:22 min)
*Airbags (3:26 min)
*Big Boys / Flint (3:37 min)
*Bell's Palsy / Shafeek (2:14 min)
*Proposition 103 (3:59 min)
*Meeting With The Congressional Black Caucus (6:34 min)

Disc 2

Several featurettes are included in the second disc. These are not just random “making of”-footage or interviews with the filmmakers (none of that is included), but rather like a “mini-documentaries”, going deeper to the certain aspects that are introduced or touch on in the main feature. They are like smaller roads that you can take after traveling the main road. From those smaller roads you’ll learn even more (or perhaps want to debate on these issues even more). All the featurettes include many of the same participants than the main feature, with couple of new faces. The titles of the featurettes speak from themselves;

-“A Profile Of A Charismatic Leader” -featurette (34:00 min)

-“What Kind Of President Would Ralph Nader Be?” -featurette (11:02 min)

-“Debating The Role Of Third Parties In The United States” -featurette (28:19 min)

-“What Happened To The Democratic Party?” -featurette (8:57 min)

-“Why Is The Right Better Organized Than The Left?” -featurette (6:32 min)

-“Ralph Nader On The Iraq War” -featurette (6:52 min)

-“A Debate On Corporate Power In The United States” -featurette (12:43 min)

Overall

“An Unreasonable Man” is a fine documentary, which is letting everything to unfold in its course and is not overly aggressive (nor e.g. “anti-W. Bush”). People mainly give their opinions and views and it´s up to the viewer to draw their final conclusions. It clearly shows how prominent figure and “consumer crusader” Nader was back in the days, but you can learn something from his “darker” - egoistic side also, who only sees his work and is rarely willing to admit his mistakes. “An Unreasonable Man” has its place among the recent documentaries like “Bowling for Columbine (2002)”, “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)” and “An Inconvenient Truth (2006)”. All are probably creating debates - but eventually they all teach something for the audience. The answers just aren’t that “black & white” as some people would expect them to be. The DVD is jam-packed with extras that almost create another documentary for the same price.

For more info, please visit the homepage of Genius Products.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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