Written by: David Brook
Director: Ross Ashcroft
Written by: Ross Ashcroft, Dominic Frisby
Starring: Noam Chomsky, Gillian Tett, Max Keiser, Prof. Joseph Stiglitz, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Camilla Batmanghelidjh
Producer: Megan Ashcroft, Ross Ashcroft, Jason Whitmore
Running Time: 97 min
BBFC Certificate: E
I’m ashamed to say I tend to avoid discussing the economy and often sidestep documentaries like this. It’s not that the economic crisis isn’t affecting me or I don’t care – it’s effecting everyone around the world at the moment and isn’t going away anytime soon. I just don’t feel I know enough about what happened or what we can do about it to offer an opinion. I tend to hide in my little bubble of ‘I’ve got a job so I’m ok’ and not worry about such things, because I know if I research exactly where things are headed I’ll just make myself ill worrying about it because thats the kind of guy I am. However, when I was asked if I wanted to review Four Horsemen, a documentary about the very topic, I was feeling brave and figured maybe now’s the time to look into this financial meltdown business and have a bit more of an educated opinion on things. Besides, the blurb says the film offers solutions – they should make me feel better about it all.
Well, I can’t say it did that exactly, but I’m certainly glad I watched the film in the end.
Four Horsemen uses a simple concept in its presentation. It takes 23 ‘Global thinkers’, including Noam Chomsky, Gillian Tett, Max Keiser etc. and gets them to explain what they believe caused the recent financial disaster, what effect it is having and what needs to change for the western world to come out of the hole it has dug for itself. The film is broken into segments similar to these headers with the interviewees giving their thoughts through talking heads mixed with stock footage and some specially produced graphics used to illustrate some of the more complex financial aspects.
It’s not a very slick film in terms of presentation, it doesn’t look particularly special and the audio sounds quite badly recorded in places, but that doesn’t matter. The filmmakers are clearly passionate about getting the facts on what caused the economic crisis out in the open as well as delivering a message that we as individuals need to educate ourselves and do something about it.
I found the film interesting from early on, although through the third quarter I started to feel like it was all damnation and no solutions. A lot of information was being thrown my way and it was all so extraordinarily bleak that it started to become a bit of a struggle to watch. Luckily, the film does come around to offering some fairly straight forward and realistic ideas as to how things can be changed. I wouldn’t say I feel like many of them are likely to happen any time soon, but it was refreshing to see a film like this suggest solutions instead of just scare-mongering its way through. That said, there are some over the top moments in the film’s opening for instance, where the dramatic score and talk of the original four horsemen feels a little much. This style works very well for the climax though as the viewer is urged to educate themselves to make a difference. It’s a powerful message and is delivered effectively.
The animated segments are handled nicely too, using a clean and clear style to get the information across. For someone with very little knowledge of economics it certainly did the trick. In general the film did well to handle so much information and so many ideas without overloading the viewer. It did get a bit bogged down towards the end as I mentioned previously, but overall it balanced things nicely. It tended to aim most of its malice towards three key institutional causes for the crisis rather than spread blame to individuals or a multitude of problems, which helped to keep the discussion and solutions fairly focussed too. In the eyes of the writers Ross Ashcroft and Dominic Frisby, it is the use of fiat money and the neo-classical model of economics that are most to blame, along with the fact that banks and huge corporations have far too much power over politics. They certainly make a good case of it and who am I to argue.
All in all it’s a powerful documentary, made with a passion for the subject and an admirable use of clear thinking over shock-tactics. It may not always offer the most rounded of arguments, but I doubt you’ll find many people who have anything positive to say on the state of the western economy or offer many more sensible solutions. As an eye-opener for those hiding from the truth (like myself) or as a rally call for action, it’s a must see.
Four Horsemen is out now on DVD, released by Guerilla Films. The picture and sound quality are fine (other than those issues I mentioned before which are a recording problem, not a transfer one), not that it matters too much. There are a handful of extras too though which are more than welcome. There’s a 22 minute making of documentary which is decent. There are a couple of cheesy bits (‘funniest memory’ for a film like this, really?), but overall it’s interesting to see the passion that went into the project from a relatively young crew. They also go into things that were changed in the process. For instance the animations were originally going to be more childlike and the ending was going to be drawn out further. The original animation is included as a feature which is a nice addition (it plays out like something from a Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock doc). There are two deleted interviews too which seem faked, or at least I hope so. I’m glad they got rid of them either way as they would have cheapened the doc. It’s interesting to see them here though. It all goes to create a package that I would heartily recommend.