WAL-MART: THE HIGH COST OF LOW PRICE
(director: Robert Greenwald; cinematographer: Kristy Tully; editors: Chris Gordon, Douglas Cheek, Robert Florio and Jonathan Brock; music: John Frizzell; Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Greenwald, Jim Gilliam and Devin Smith; Brave New Films; 2005)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Robert Greenwald’s (“Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism”/”Uncovered: The War on Iraq”) effective muckraking documentary takes aim on the retail giant Wal-Mart as a monopoly and enemy of the American way. It’s a blistering attack on the low-rent retail store that is done in a sober and straightforward manner, much like those informative educational films I watched back in my public school days that weren’t entertaining but filled with valuable lessons to learn if I could only pay attention and realize the subject matter was important. I had the same problem with this worthy documentary, except I watched the DVD (I wonder if Wal-Mart would carry it!) already convinced that Wal-Mart was a villain and the film only served to confirm this. This expose of America’s popular superstore only makes me feel guilty that I ever shopped there, even if only a few times. It doesn’t seem worth it to just get a supposedly lower price on a ticketed item when there are so many other factors to consider. The title says it all, and for over ninety minutes Greenwald offers in scathing detail a list of reasons why Wal-Mart should be regulated by the government and why shopping there is not good for America.
Wal-Mart’s questionable business tactics are scrutinized by first taking a look at a small town runfamily hardware business in Middlefield, Ohio, that opened in 1962 but closed shortly after Wal-Mart came to town. There was no way for the mom and pop store to compete with the giant, and also as a result the downtown area suffered with many closings and stores that remained empty. What was convincingly pointed out, was that the retail giant made enormous profits but the American towns were made depressed and the economy soured because of Wal-Mart and their unfair trade agreements with China resulting in lost jobs for Americans but staggering profits for those few on top of the food chain. If that wasn’t bad enough, Wal-Mart’s questionable tactics also concern the low wages they pay their workers, how they refuse to allow them to unionize, how they keep them on part-time so they don’t get all their benefits such as full pension coverage (and their health insurance payments are so expensive, that most can’t afford to be insured), and how they encourage their workers to use the system to unethically go on public assistance so the government could pay them what they won’t.
The store CEO Lee Scott acts as cheerleader in video footage addressing the stockholders (but refusing to be interviewed), saying all is good with Wal-Mart. But the documentary through interviews with current and former workers show much is wrong there, things that can’t be disputed by Scott’s ‘song and dance’ act. I don’t know how this will damage the giant store (Greenwald’s former film attacking Bush’s Iraqi war didn’t stop the incompetent president from getting re-elected), but it should make you seriously think why you are shopping there.
REVIEWED ON 11/19/2005 GRADE: B-