May 6, 2004 | Chronicle of Higher Education (an excerpt)
The Corporation (which opens June 4) is a sprawling screed with a jumpy visual style that grows irksome. At 145 minutes, this Canadian production is about 20 minutes shorter than the original director’s cut, but still seems overlong. Nevertheless, its argument for corporate responsibility and environmental sustainability has struck a chord with film-festival audiences, who have showered it with awards.
The film, by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott, and Joel Bakan, begins with a quick, clever trip into a boardroom where a television plays clips about corporate misdeeds perpetrated by a few "bad apples." After comparing the modern corporation to everything from a family to a whale, The Corporation unveils its central conceit: a symptom-by-symptom comparison of a prototypical corporation’s behavior with the diagnostic criteria for psychopathology. Like the psychopath, for example, the corporation is described as having "callous unconcern for the feelings of others" and an "incapacity for maintaining enduring relationships."
Segments on advertising, the privatization of natural resources, and other issues feature commentary by maverick corporate chieftains, corporate spies, authors, and such icons as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. In one sequence, Michael Moore talks about his interactions with Phil Knight, CEO of Nike, for Moore’s documentary The Big One, interspersed with clips from that film. Moore produced a pair of first-class airplane tickets and challenged Knight to visit his company’s Indonesian sweatshops, which Knight had never seen. He declined, but later, bizarrely, extended Moore an invitation to the Australian Open.
The Corporation is most effective when it slows its frenetic pace and indulges in actual narrative. The film’s best segment is the tale of how Fox News apparently bowed to pressure from the Monsanto Company to keep off the air a story about the company’s bovine growth hormone and its potential health effects. The former Fox investigative reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, who eventually lost a whistle-blower lawsuit on a technicality, relate the network’s attempts to frustrate, intimidate, and buy them off. They say the station manager told them at one point: "We paid $3-billion for these television stations. … The news is what we say it is."
Julia M. Klein is a cultural reporter and critic in Philadelphia.