Apparently the book that this documentary is based on by economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner sold nearly 4 million copies. For the sake of reader’s interest, I hope the book was more entertaining and informative than this movie was.
As an interesting concept, the film was divided into four segments and written and directed by several different well-known documentarians including: Morgan Spurlock, Eugene Jarecki, Alex Gibney and Rachel Grady, among others. There were four major sections overall: one segment on names entitled “A Roshanda By Any Other Name”; one segment on cheating entitled “Pure Corruption”; one segment on crime called “It’s Not Always a Wonderful Life”; and one segment on incentives entitled “Can a Ninth Grader be Bribed to Succeed?”
Going in order that they appeared, I found the first segment on naming to be marginally interesting and somewhat entertaining. However, the majority of the information provided could have been summed up in a sentence rather than 25 minutes of screen time. The second segment, which featured information on cheating in sumo wrestling, was the worst and it was the longest segment! I didn’t care at all about sumo wrestling, the economic data they presented or anything else this segment had to offer. To be honest, I fast forwarded through about 20 minutes of this segment because it was brutal. The third segment, which dealt with crime in early 1990s, was by far the most interesting of the entire film. If this segment would have been a stand alone short film, it would have probably won some awards and gotten rave reviews because it was very well presented. Then, like the first, the fourth segment was only marginal.
Interspersed between the four segments are various interviews with the two authors, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Both of them seem really arrogant and condescending in how they present their information. It’s a shame, because some of the material seemed like it could be really interesting. After seeing the guys who came up with it, however, it makes it feel like it could loose validity.
I would not recommend wasting your time with this film. The only part I can recommend would be the third segment. So, if you are interested in this film, just go to Netflix instant watch and fast forward to about an hour in for that and then just be done with this movie after that. There are too many other good documentaries to waste your time on this one.