'Inequality for All' a rich portrait of middle class
05:00 AM, Sep 27, 2013
Right down to its diminutive narrator, Inequality for All serves as a kind of An Inconvenient Truth-lite.
That’s not bad company to keep. While not as revelatory as Al Gore’s 2006 Oscar-winning documentary, Inequality (*** out of four; rated PG; opens Friday in select cities) makes a resounding case that the middle class is facing its own planetary crisis: becoming an endangered species.
At the heart of Inequality is Robert Reich, the author and professor who served as Secretary of Labor under the Clinton administration. Reich is a wondrous narrator who uses everything from his car (a Mini Cooper) to the rare genetic disorder that left him 4-foot-11 (multiple epiphyseal dysplasia) to make the point that he stands for the little man.
And there’s no denying the EveryAmerican that Inequality finds, from the father who admits to having $80 in his checking account (for him, a savings account is as feasible as a hover car) to the mother who is down to her last $20, but has a full tank of gas “and I don’t have anywhere far to go this week.” Their matter-of-fact resignation to the times is enough to spark an Occupy Washington protest movement.
Reich, a Rhodes Scholar hand-picked by college bud Bill Clinton, backs up the testimony with some eerie parallels between the financial crashes of 1929 and 2008, where a widening gap between rich and poor helped destabilize the economy.
Directed by Jacob Kornbluth, Inequality works by avoiding most of the political minefields that have made the economy mulch for partisan consumption. While it takes a couple of jabs at commentators (Bill O’Reilly is at his reddest-faced and Jon Stewart looks equally bemused), the film keeps its focus on people who don’t consider themselves middle class, no matter how Washington labels them.
Reich proves to be unafraid to poke fun of himself. Inequality includes terrific clips of him on late-night shows, talking big and playing off being small. He concedes that, as labor secretary, he didn’t focus enough on government investing in the working class.
And if there’s a weakness to Inequality, it’s in the film’s “no kidding” moments. While Inconvenient Truth force-illuminated global warming, Inequality must emphasize what most people suspect: that lobbyists and entrenched wealth have turned the middle class into an American dream as fleeting as stardom.
Still, Reich is so impassioned, informed and insistent it’s hard not to raise your fist to Inequality’s bottom line: In this perilous economy, Capitol Hill stands as the nation’s lone job sector that’s in need of a few pink slips.