Freakonomics Seth Gordon, Morgan Spurlock, Alex Gibney, Eugene Jarecki, Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady

Freakonomics Seth Gordon, Morgan Spurlock, Alex Gibney, Eugene Jarecki, Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
Economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner's 2005 mega-bestseller, Freakonomics, collected odd economic theories tangentially related to causality into a package that surely must have seemed like one of those "un-filmable" books. Assembling five important documentary filmmakers to each direct a chapter (tied together by interviews with Dubner and Levitt, filmed by The King of Kong director Seth Gordon), Freakonomics does about as good a job adapting the source material as anyone could reasonably expect. Morgan Spurlock's "A Roshada by Any Other Name" explores how names can affect our quality of life: studies show that more black-sounding names, like Tyrone, make it harder to find a job, but can the miserable life of a girl named "Temptress" be attributed solely to her name or her impoverished upbringing? And how much can a mere name really hinder us, even if it's "Murray"? Spurlock never quite comes to a definite conclusion in his entertaining, if slightly too Morgan Spurlock-y (a lot of cutesy montages and aggressively affable narration), segment. Alex Gibney's thoughtful "Pure Corruption" explores the Japanese Sumo leagues, suggesting that the wrestlers' longstanding place of honour in Japanese society has made them untouchable, even in the face of obvious corruption. Eugene Jarecki's "It's Not Always a Wonderful Life" is the most provocative and problematic segment, arguing that the decrease in crime in the '90s had less to do with more commonly cited reasons (like Rudolph Giuliani and his crime policies) and more to do with Roe v. Wade, implemented in 1973, around the time the '90s wave of criminals would have been born. Jarecki makes a persuasive case, but the narration's claim that this conclusion has nothing to do with race or class is ludicrous considering its earlier claim that Roe v. Wade meant less unwanted children in poor, "inner-city" areas, and the conclusion that a generation of potential criminals was wiped out before they were born just barely stays on the right side of genocidal rhetoric. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady conclude with their fine, understated "Can a Ninth Grader Be Bribed to Succeed?," a self-explanatory experiment that, as anyone whose parents offered them ten bucks for each A on their report card can predict, achieves decidedly mixed results. Freakonomics feels less than the sum of its parts, especially since the project doesn't have a unifying thesis, and with filmmakers this diverse, the viewer has to shift gears a lot. Still, there are no clunkers in the bunch – an unusual feat for an anthology film. DVD extras include commentaries by the directors, where we learn from Morgan Spurlock that the real "Temptress" was hesitant to appear as herself, while Jarecki, understandably careful with his words, says of his segment, "It's about the connection between unwantedness as a social phenomenon, and crime, and the fact that there is a link between the two." Other extras include commentary by the producers and additional interviews with Levitt and Dubner. (Mongrel Media)