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IFC presents
An Unreasonable Man (2007)

"Let it not be said that this generation refused to give up so little in order to achieve so much."
- Ralph Nader

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: July 20, 2007

Stars: Ralph Nader, Theresa Amato, Eric Alterman, Todd Gitlin, Joan Claybrook
Other Stars: Phil Donahue, Pat Buchanan, Sidney Wolfe, David Bollier, Joe Tom Easley, Howard Zinn, Andrew Egendorf, Robert Fellmeth, David Mitchell, Harvey Rosenfeld, Laura Rothrock, Bill Maher, Michael Moore
Director: Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 02h:02m:14s
Release Date: June 12, 2007
UPC: 796019801690
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-B+B+ A

DVD Review

Mention the name Ralph Nader to many liberals, and get ready for some nasty vitriol about his key role in electing George W. Bush. They will complain about his arrogance, unchecked ego, and purposeful spoiling of a tight election. Many young people only know Nader from his presidential runs and have no idea about his past achievements. Should his unfortunate recent activities outweigh a lifetime of public service? An even better question asks if Nader even deserves blame for Al Gore's loss in the 2000 election. The answer may appear simple, but the reasons for this result are actually more complex. These divisive issues and many more are addressed in An Unreasonable Mana mostly balanced portrayal of the fiery politician and his history. Whether you consider Nader's work heroic or abhorrent, this film almost certainly will inspire an interesting reaction.

Directed by comics Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan, this positive depiction spends about an hour on Nader's past and uses the second hour to cover the recent elections. This was the first picture for both filmmakers, and they deftly wade through the possible trap of painting their subject as a complete saint. Although the directors obviously admire him, passionate detractors like Eric Alterman and Todd Gitlin are given considerable time to offer their viewpoints. Before discussing this issue, we go back to Nader's early work fighting General Motors. This portion is riveting and describes how the auto giant hired private investigators to follow and harass the activist. They actually sent a young woman to the grocery store to apparently seduce him and slander his image. Even more stunning is GM's direct apology in court, which would probably never happen today. Nader's work played a huge role in improving auto safety and led to obvious standards like seat belts. Through historical footage and conversations with his associates, we get a fairly detailed picture of the hostile landscape. Nader idealistically believed that you could inspire change through the system, and he succeeded against gigantic odds.

While I was aware of Nader's activism for car safety, I did not realize the extent of his organization's reach during the 1970s. Labeled as "Nader's Raiders" by the press, this large group of idealistic young people fought for greater consumer protections and won numerous victories. Many of the key figures from the early days appear here and discuss their experiences. Almost all of them revere Nader, but some personal relationships have deteriorated severely over the years. One example is Public Citizen's Joan Claybrook, who joined the Carter administration in the late '70s. After she failed to comply with all of his goals, Nader shunned Claybrook. Her candid statements are totally understandable for someone in a government position. However, I can also understand Nader's frustration. These political difficulties appear throughout this film and generate a complex debate with no easy answers.

I was born in 1976, so my knowledge of Nader's history is very limited. Mantel and Skrovan do an excellent job offering a comprehensive look at both the man and his actions. He's a major workaholic and appears to have little social life beyond his job functions. Romances seem virtually nonexistent, and even his close associates don't appear super close to him. While this perception corresponds with his gruff public persona, Nader does appear fairly warm during the film's interview clips. He discusses many pivotal modern issues and never seems to be talking down to the audience. Memorable speakers enhance this portrait, including an interesting Pat Buchanan, who actually delivers common sense during almost every clip. Another revelation is Phil Donahue, who delivers logical, progressive views that go well beyond my expectations of the longtime TV host. The running time is nearly two hours, but it moves quickly thanks to the insightful, entertaining comments from the many participants. Even the ridiculous opinions of the Heritage Foundation's David Mitchell are interesting because they offer a saddening look at some prevailing conservative views. The directors are especially good at placing clips together in a point/counterpoint manner to generate a worthy debate of the key issues.

Should Ralph Nader have run for president in 2000 and 2004? There are no easy answers to this question, which inspires a fiery debate that continues to this day. In hindsight, it's much easier to say that Nader cost Gore the election. But should that possibility have discouraged him from running at all? This documentary effectively presents all the facets of this issue during its compelling second hour. They make a strong case that Nader acting correctly and depict the forces that denied him a chance to speak. A stunning sequence occurs at a 2000 presidential debate, where Nader wasn't even given the chance to use a ticket and sit in the audience. Cops were ordered to arrest him if necessary to prevent his appearance. These extreme measures reveal both parties' fear of third-party candidates and desire to preserve the status quo.

Nader's belief in raising the issues Gore and Bush wouldn't touch deserves praise, but it may have had disastrous consequences. Alterman, Gitlin, and others nastily describe Nader's inflated ego and desire to spoil the election. Their views are shared by many Democrats, who still consider him a traitor who delivered us into the current political disaster. Justified or not, this reputation will stay with Nader forever. His decision to run again in 2004 even alienated famous supporters like Michael Moore, who diligently campaigned for him four years earlier. An Unreasonable Man attempts to tell the whole story and succeeds, but it may only add fuel to the anger felt by many liberals. Its focus on his past successes should at least showcase the passion of this unique and driven man. The issues raised during these two hours will be pivotal in the upcoming years and help to determine this country's future. Even Nader haters should enjoy this complex discussion of these important subjects.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: An Unreasonable Man offers a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that presents the wide range of interviews and historical footage in solid fashion. The majority of this documentary involves conversations in basic indoor settings, so there are few opportunities for inventive visuals. The presentation is consistent, however, and delivers an involving experience with minimal grain or image defects.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: This release utilizes a 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track that presents Nader's history without any significant issues. The discussions remain understandable throughout the picture, even though the volume level is pretty quiet. The few music cues are fairly muted, but the limited audio never becomes a distraction. Considering this film's nature, the centralized transfer works fine and delivers as expected.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Penelope; So Goes the Nation; This Film Is Not Rated; Yo soy Boricua, pa'que tu lo sepas!
7 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
5 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic two-disc keepc
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: I was slightly surprised not to see the inclusion of a commentary track on An Unreasonable Man's two-disc release. However, it's hard to complain when you consider that the bonus disc basically includes another entire movie separated into seven featurettes. The first disc also provides 30 minutes of deleted scenes with even more information. We learn about the ambitious Congress Project, which attempted to record details about every member of the House and the Senate. Another frustrating segment involves air bags, which should have been instituted during the 1970s. The most compelling inclusion describes Nader's meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, who angrily cursed and threatened him when he refused to drop out of the race. The first disc also includes the theatrical trailer and four pre-menu previews.

Bonus discs often include minimal extras and are filled with promotional fluff giving little new information. Thankfully, this release's second disc includes nearly two hours of extra footage that should please interested viewers. The individual features are described in the following sections:

Profile of a Charismatic Leader
This 34-minute feature is the disc's longest and offers a broader look at Nader's motivations and leadership abilities. Several college professors focus on his mind's workings and his personality type, the "hyper manic" individual. This piece is interesting and includes lots of praise for Nader's intelligence and values, but it goes on for a bit too long to remain compelling.

What Kind of President Would Ralph Nader Be?
I actually expected to hear comments from experts on Nader's ability to get things done as the president. Instead, we have an 11-minute look at his "Plan for America," which involves seven major tenets that include raising the living wage, creating a sustainable energy policy, and national health insurance. If Nader was planning to run again in 2008, this feature could serve as a campaign video.

Debating the Role of Third Parties in the U.S.
This 28-minute feature offers intriguing details about the history of our political system and its evolution into the unfortunate two-party stranglehold. It's easily my favorite extra and includes excellent comments from Howard Zinn, Phil Donahue, and Pat Buchanan about third parties. They also discuss the complicit role of the mainstream media, who treat elections like a horse race and ignore the other candidates.

What Happened to the Democratic Party?
This negative portrayal of the modern Democrats explores the reasons from their shift away from progressive values and toward corporate interests. The nine-minute discussion offers interesting points about the party's struggle to combat their more organized conservative opponents.

Why Is the Right Better Organized Than the Left?
I've been surprised at the logic displayed by Pat Buchanan in the film and extras, but he finally displays his conservative side during this piece. Most of the six-minute running time discusses the reasons for the Republican's success, including better institutions, discipline, and political focus.

Ralph Nader on the Iraq War
Although he often focuses on domestic issues, Nader knows a lot about the Iraq War. This seven-minute piece gives him the chance to present his beliefs about the current situation. We also hear about the sad demise of the anti-war movement.

A Debate on Corporate Power in the United States
This feature is very entertaining because it allows the Heritage Foundation's David Mitchell to spout his ridiculous views. He claims that corporate power isn't a big issue, which draws the expected criticism from the liberal speakers. I don't mean to pick on Mitchell, who is just spouting a commonly held conservative view. However, his statements contradict the reality of numerous recent situations.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

An Unreasonable Man probably won't change the minds of Democrats who believe he delivered us into the unfortunate Bush years. However, the intriguing documentary could offer some perspective on his reasons for following that path. This release is highly recommended, particularly for the wealth of informative extras that complement the film much better than the typical bonus features.

 


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