During a mid-winter trip earlier this year to Montreal, it was 2 degrees Fahrenheit outside and a couple friends and I were discussing world issues while sipping hot chocolate and eating a sinful dessert. Somehow, we got into discussing Wal-Mart. I tried explaining to my friends in both French and English the entire Wal-Mart phenomenon; that Wal-Mart is a part of the U.S culture, and that to some, it is a necessary evil, and to most, especially in the Southern U.S., it is an institution that is revered on par with most churches.
The documentary, directed by Robert Greenwald, is constructed in segments on how the company is affecting everyone from the local Mom & Pop operation in small towns to the foreign sweatshop workers who work long hours for little pay and are boarded in dismal living quarters.
Each segment begins with footage of Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott giving shining and impassioned speeches on how Wal-Mart is committed to preserving the environment, creating jobs, contributing to the economy, and philanthropy. However, there are contrasting attestations by former employees and executives who pull the bullshit flag and call out the retail giant for pollution, labor exploitations and stinginess by the company and the Walton family itself.
The film starts off chronicling the history of Wal-Mart and showing pervasive commercials that litter the TV landscape while extolling the virtues and benefits of working for America's leading retailer. We are treated to glowing testimonials of "true blue Wal-Mart Employees" who bear witness to how Wal-Mart helped them through some of their darkest times and harshest crises in their lives. The reality is, while once like what the commercials describe, the company has lost its way since the death of founder and patriarch Sam Walton. These commercials have replaced the whole "Buy American - And Americans Work" campaign of the 1980's when Wal-Mart put those nauseating florescent green price stickers on everything. Nowadays, shoppers are hard pressed to find anything that's been made in the U.S.A.
The documentary doesn't feature the so-called experts and pundits who try to explain/malign/justify Wal-Mart and how they've seem to stray from their original image of purportedly caring for the little guy and offered its mostly blue collared employees a chance at stable and flexible employment with benefits for them and their families. These employees, unlike their cheerleader colleagues featured in TV spots, detail how the dreams promised by the retail juggernaut were in reality nightmares. There are stories of abuse, forced overtime without pay, and expensive but substandard healthcare options that force employees and their families to seek Medicaid and other tax-payer funded health programs. They bear witness to the use of threat and intimidation techniques, hindering union activities, and the use of illegal workers to keep labor costs low and increase profit margins. There is also a piece on the Chinese sweatshop workers who produce most of the goods that Wal-Mart sells in the U.S. and Canada, and how this kills American manufacturing jobs.
The film is by no means objective, nor does it claim to be. However it is not as scathing as a Michael Moore documentary. There is a plethora of emotional allegations against Wal-Mart along with figures and statistics that contradict statements and pledges declared by the box big behemoth. There are no opposing points of view presented by Wal-Mart or anyone else who may like or benefit from the giant purveyor. It is far from fair and balanced, but what is does is bring the dark side of the mega-store smiley faced mascot into the light... a light that the Walton family and Board of Directors may want to turn off.
Czarina's First Date Rating: I rate this movie B; which means if I saw it on a first date I would*:
* Czarina does not give blow jobs on the first date... (often).
Czarina's Captious Compliment of Caustic Comment: Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Disgruntled Employees and a Documentary Maker
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