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Freakonomics (2010) ***

September 30, 2010

Written by: Peter Bull, Alex Gibney, Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock, Eugene Jarecki, Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, Seth Gordon, Steven Levitt, and Stephen Dubner

Produced by: Dan O’Meara and Chris Romano

Directed by: Heidi Ewing, Alex Gibney, Seth Gordon, Rachel Grady, Eugene Jarecki, and Morgan Spurlock

Rated PG-13 for elements of violence, sexuality/nudity, drugs, and brief strong language

85 mins.

U.S. Release Date: October 1, 2010

In the past, many projects have attempted the multiple-director approach, but seldom does it actually work.  Freakonomics, the documentary film based on the best-selling book by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, employs many well-known documentary directors to visually explore the contents of this popular book.  The makers of Super Size Me, Jesus Camp, Taxi to the Dark Side, The King of Kong, Why We Fight, and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room all give their own interpretations on topics such as: corruption in sumo wrestling, the effects a name has on a person’s life, the startling causes of the crime rate plunge of the 1990s, and bribing high school kids to do their homework.  With such a broad range of topics and filmmaking styles, can a film like Freakonomics see the same success as the book did?

The film begins with a brief introduction by the minds behind the book, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.  They do a mini-documentary segment to get you hooked into the overall flow and style of the film.  These mini-docs briefly cover topics like: the best way to maximize your profits when selling a home, or potty training your children, among other things.  Each little tidbit is entertaining as a stand-alone and could be successful as a documentary short submission to a festival.

From the first few minutes, you know one thing is for sure; this is not going to be a slow and drab educational-style doc.  There is plenty to look at to accompany the voice-overs, fantastic visuals captured by the camera (in all segments of the film), and compelling article topics.  Each topic is tackled in a mathematical way that only an economist would tackle it, and that spin makes each segment interesting to watch.  If you’ve ever seen any of the previously mentioned docu-directors, you know that their production values are all very high and the films they’ve produced have all been great (you MUST see all of the films mentioned in the first paragraph of this review), and those successes carry over to this broadly-stretching Freakonomics project as well.

If you liked the book, you like documentaries, or you like any of these documentarians, you will definitely enjoy Freakonomics.  This film is perfect fodder for your next dinner party, and if you haven’t already read the book, you will be looking around for a copy on the discount shelves.  This film surprisingly makes statistics and studies a fun thing, which is a tall order for almost anyone…x and after you watch it, you’ll want more?  Amazing.

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