Merchants of Doubt (Directed by Robert Kenner, based on the book of the same name by Naomi Oreskes) is a troubling and straightforward documentary. It exposes some of the individuals behind large corporations who push their political agendas while presenting false, “scientific” evidence on subjects like chemicals and climate change. The film ties in the history of big tobacco companies telling the American population that cigarettes were not bad or addictive, despite the evidence that was known to them at the time, that they were in fact harmful, to further illustrate the methods and reasons for the current lies that are being spoon-fed to the masses, primarily that climate change is a hoax.
Some of the hired pundits and science-deniers themselves appear in the film, outwardly “showing their cards,” if you will (magic is used as a bit of a heavy handed metaphor throughout the entire film), letting us in on tactics like charm and T.V. personality to sway viewers. Even though climate scientists are pretty much all in agreement across the board about the man-made changes that are occurring, the corporations and their representatives cast doubt, continually saying that the data is not conclusive. Apparently that’s all it takes to convince people.
The film certainly leaves you feeling cheated by these corporations and extremely angry. However, the film’s message gets to be repetitive by the end. The countless CGI reenactments and correlation to magic tricks gets old pretty quickly and only ends up ultimately serving to distract from the issue at hand with good looking production. Not only that, but also the chances are high that the viewers of Merchants are likely to be those that are already informed and on board, which presents the possible issue of preaching to the choir. Here’s hoping that the doc’s larger agenda, to open the public’s eyes and instill some motivation for action and change, can transcend its minor flaws.
Merchants of Doubt opens today at the Ritz Bourse.
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.