Spout Mavens Disc #7: Out of Balance: ExxonMobil's Impact on Climate Change (2007)

Cinema 4 Rating: 6

There has been much discussion lately about whether a film marked primarily with the label "documentary" has a certain responsibility to present a balanced detailing of the particulars surrounding a subject, representing opinions on both or multiple sides of a debatable issue. Certainly, Michael Moore is due a certain amount of blame for this discussion. His films are unfailingly one-sided, and yes, he does have a tendency to push things in his favor; some even go so far to say he creates situations to lead to such a result. I couldn't care less for two reasons. The first is that I am, without any doubt, squarely on his side on all of the issues upon which he has has planted his weighted camera lens, even if he is a bit of a tad of a not-even-sort of a dickhead. So, don't come crying to me if you feel he treated Charlton Heston in much the same manner that Heston chewed his merciless way through script after script over the years; if you take a very public position within a uniquely asinine organization, you deserve to have your ancient bones raked over the coals a little bit. The second reason I couldn't care less is that, whatever their demerits as actual journalism, Moore's liberal screeds are entertaining simply as "films." If a Republican-leaning filmmaker came along and made "documentaries" half as entertaining, I'd be inclined to check them out as well. Out of Balance will get numerous reviews from those with oily pockets, who will undoubtedly note that the title certainly lives up to the content. There is not a doubt where director/writer Tom Jackson stands from the very first frame, and there is little in the way of denial from the target company apart from their snooty and ridiculous behavior over the years in relation to their epic attacks on the only planet we possess. Oh, I should mention at this point, and remind those that already know, that I am from Alaska and even visited some of the coastline affected by the Exxon Valdez disaster. I have seen oily, dying birds, and I know numerous fishermen who have felt the cost deeply in their declining way of life. Also, I do not drive at all, hate any corporation above a mon-and-pop level, and also believe that individual transportation should be phased completely out of the picture. If this makes me a bad candidate for an unbiased film review about the savage environmental and economical raping a single corporation has visited upon not just our country, but mankind in general, then call me guilty. I am not the guy for the job.

Or am I? Because this is a film review, not a political position paper, I feel that I should review this DVD in much the same manner I would review anything: not just for its content, but for the way in which it is presented. In this regard, I am very sorry, for even at just over an hour, I found Out of Balance, despite my zealotry for the subject matter, literally put me to sleep three times. I was forced to jump back chapter by chapter over and over due to the dullness of the presentation. Please don't try and accuse me of merely finding this film a drone because I am now used to Moore docu-antics and can't watch a straight documentary, because it is quite clear throughout Out of Balance that Jackson is a dedicated follower of Moore's once unique style. But it is the difference between Buster Keaton performing a stunt, and Donald O'Connor portraying Buster Keaton performing a stunt. Something gets lost between generations. Jackson tries to liven things up in a minor fashion, as Moore does, with humorous graphics, but he is best when he outright attacks the objects of his fury. These were the parts where I was fervently caught up in the piece, booing the evil corporation for all I was worth. It was in Jackson's brief tangents from the main attack where I would lose consciousness.

That said, I eventually rallied myself, finished the film, struck my fist against the sky in anger over ExxonMobil, made some popcorn (without oil, mind you) and watched it straight through a second time. I wouldn't do this for most films that put me to sleep three times, but its brevity proved to be a double positive in this case. And then I went outside and threw a rock at the tiny oil well across the street (I am not joking) that a local landscaping company has pumping relentlessly day and night. After I threw the rock, I felt bad, if only because I started to brood about what would have happened if I had caused a rupture and the oil well started spewing oil all over the brood of unchecked neighbor kids who seem to sprout all over the sidewalks in greater and greater numbers every day in this place. Next thing you know, both I and the landscaping company would get hit with a bill for the expense of the cleanup and the damage we did to the denizens of my street. This bill would have been $318.63.

Did I mention that human life is cheap in this place? And that it was a tiny oil well? The parents of the kids covered in the oil would have been day-hired from the front of the local Home Depot to clean up the mess. This means that not only would we save money on the clean-up, but that it would also get done right and without complaining, since the unions weren't involved. See? (Si...)There are positives in every situation.

The positive in ExxonMobil's case is that, ultimately, unlike the film that aims to shred their reputation, they are entertaining. The main thing that Out of Balance has going for it is that Jackson has cast an incredible villain. And if there is one thing that has proven itself true throughout the history of film, it's that you can't lose with a great villain. Out of Balance may indeed unbalanced as a documentary, but it will keep you watching, as I eventually did, for the asshole in the black hat. That black hat is covered in oil, but ExxonMobil will never admit to it.


A side note; what I like about Michael Moore, as one-sided as he is, is that he sometimes does enough research that he changes his opinion. Not so in Fharanheit 9/11, but especially in Bowling For Columbine, it's obvious that he had one view of the problem, and that view changed during the course of making the movie, so that the end result was so much better than a simple 'guns are bad' argument.

I think that's my main problem with the Heston attack; it seems like a stunt he planned out before coming to his current conclusion, but thought it was too good an opportunity to pass up. It probably was too good to pass up, but it strikes me as more of a knee-jerk reaction than the rest of his fairly thoughtful film was.

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