Film Review: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

Greg Palast’s documentary employs cartoony graphics and dubious logic in calling attention to a supposed forthcoming voter-fraud crisis.
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For moviegoers who find Michael Moore’s brand of left-leaning nonfiction filmmaking too modest in both attitude and style, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy delivers an onslaught of cutesy graphics, context-light facts and dubious argumentation in addressing an apparent forthcoming voter-fraud crisis. Writer-director Greg Palast (a journalist for BBC America and The Guardian) stands at the center of this agitprop maelstrom, wearing a fedora and a tie-loosened suit in order to pose as a gumshoe intent on exposing “a crime still in progress.” That offense is the disenfranchisement of millions of registered voters, and according to Palast, it’s being perpetrated by nefarious Republican billionaires against minorities via myriad duplicitous schemes—all of which he slams through a here-there-and-everywhere line of reasoning that’s as suspect as his aesthetics are intolerable.

Palast’s film is merely the latest of its kind to string numerous semi-related threads together and then package them in a bright and colorful, CGI-heavy product brimming with comical animation and assaultive musical cues. The Best Democracy Money Can Buy makes the contention that millions of voters—almost all of them African-American, Hispanic and Asian—are going to be screwed over on Election Day 2016 courtesy of the white Republican establishment, which is angry over minorities’ growing numbers (which spells doom for them at the ballot box). This is of particular concern to billionaires like the dastardly Koch Brothers, John Paulson and John “The Vulture” Singer, who fund projects—in particular, Interstate Crosscheck, which ostensibly hunts for voter fraud (in particular, “double-voting” crooks)—designed to keep non-whites from voting, and thus ensure that their own wealth isn’t taxed into the stratosphere by Democratic politicians.

That’s the basic gist of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, but Palast’s film often has trouble staying on-point, so busy is it slamming the one-percent for all manner of horrors, including raping the environment with the Keystone XL pipeline, destroying the Detroit auto industry (and the communities that depended on it), exploiting Third World nations for profit, and lying, lying, lying—including to Palast himself, who does his best Moore impression by sneaking into private events and trying to lob sneak-attack questions at Paulson and Singer. As is so often the case with such documentary efforts that end with online addresses for their pet causes (and, in this case, for Palast’s own site), the problem is that the film’s proselytizing is belligerent, and that its polarized outlook is extreme. Palast provides an us-against-them, good-vs.-evil view of the world that’s almost comically simplistic, and his efforts to present himself as a lonely, noble crusader—a man who happily attends a black church, as opposed to Paulson’s hoity-toity black-tie soiree—further renders his ridicule-laced arguments cartoonish, and unreliable.

With cameos from Bernie Sanders supporters Shailene Woodley, Rosario Dawson, Ed Asner and Ice-T, and concluding with footage of (and anecdotes from attendees of) the 1965 Selma marches set to “We Shall Overcome,” The Best Democracy Money Can Buy presents a doomsday scenario that’s as guilty of fear-mongering as anything presented by its favorite source for villainy, Fox News. And the fact that it occasionally hits upon a salient point only underscores its hysterical and haphazard nature. It’s a warning-siren-by-way-of-rallying-cry devoid of nuance or sobriety—and additional proof that “the sky is falling” hyperbole exists on both sides of the political aisle.

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