Movie Review - Citizen Koch

Governor Scott Walker in a scene from "Citizen Koch"
This documentary is about the effects of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC, which reversed a lot of the protections of the so-called McCain-Feingold Act when it comes to the funding of political campaigns and TV advertising in the run-up to elections. This documentary begins with a montage of cable news clips, particularly from FOX News, which conveys the opposition and hatred of President Barack Obama by the Tea Party, an off-shoot of the Republican Party. Unfortunately, while the emotion is certainly conveyed, I don't think this movie gives enough background in terms of facts and history to allow people fully to understand the Supreme Court case.

There is some background. Citizens United is the company that produced Hilary: The Movie, a documentary that deconstructed or attacked Hilary Clinton and her politics. The broadcast or distribution of that documentary was blocked when the Federal Election Commission, or FEC, charged that Citizens United violated the McCain-Feingold Act. The resulting lawsuit went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Citizens United and eliminated the limitations on campaign spending by wealthy corporations.

What the documentary doesn't point out is that Citizens United made the argument that essentially Hilary: The Movie was intended to be the Fahrenheit 9/11 on the Republican, or right-wing side. Fahrenheit 9/11 was essentially a hit piece against then President George W. Bush. Given that the makers of Citizen Koch, Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, worked as producers on Fahrenheit 9/11, it's odd that that piece of background wouldn't be pointed out here.

Directed by Oscar-winner Michael Moore, Fahrenheit 9/11 is the highest-grossing documentary of all-time. Yet, it's almost as if Deal and Lessin are trying to distance themselves from Moore's style or any connection to him. Granted that other filmmakers have tried to adopt Moore's style to less successful results, Moore's style would have been welcome here like his ability to inject himself into the narrative, or simply make himself more of a visible presence, giving the movie a first-person or more immersive quality.

Deal and Lessin have been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for Trouble the Water (2008). That film is vastly better than this because there's a first-person perspective to the movie, just simply not from the filmmakers. Deal and Lessin found a central subject to follow who was very compelling. That, and the subject matter, were more explosive, controversial and deadly than the subject matter of Citizen Koch.

Here, Deal and Lessin try to find a compelling character to follow. They almost have it in Governor Buddy Roemer who campaigned for President back in 2012. However, Deal and Lessin introduce him late in the movie and again don't give enough background on Roemer to have us care about him. It's probably fitting given that his campaign is quickly brushed aside. Yet, we see a guy named Carlos Sierra following Roemer and there's no explanation of who he is or how he and Roemer met. Nothing!

The movie then switches gears and focuses a lot on the election and subsequent recall of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. It makes sense because the Citizens United case allowed Koch Industries, run by the Koch brothers, Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch, to pour millions into political campaigns like Governor Walker's. The Koch brothers did help Gov. Walker in his election and recall, so it does make sense for Deal and Lessin to switch gears here.

As such, they provide a balanced look at the election and especially the recall. Both sides get equal time to speak. Deal and Lessin let supporters of Gov. Walker say their piece. Deal and Lessin also let opponents of Gov. Walker say their piece, and this is all fine, but, unlike Michael Moore, Deal and Lessin don't provide enough background.

Moore had narration, re-enactments and animations that explained things and concepts at hand in good detail. Deal and Lessin toss around concepts like "union busting" and "collective bargaining" without any context or history or any reason why it's of any importance to the people arguing for it.

There are more cable news clips that explain why the other side is against it. Yet, those clips, like from The Rachel Maddow Show, only prove that hosts like Rachel Maddow did a better job of providing context and history to the issue than this movie does. This movie follows two elections. Yet, there's no attempt at analysis of the results. For example, there's no mention of voter turnout or demographics like the lack of youth voters. This documentary is just lacking in so much.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 25 mins.


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