Freakonomics: movie review

This provocative yet scattershot documentary is based on the bestselling book 'Freakonomics' and gives five documentarians the chance to explore some quirky ideas.

By , Film critic

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    A scene from the movie 'Freakonomics' is shown in this photo.
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Conventional-wisdom debunkers Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, authors of the bestselling book “Freakonomics,” are featured front and center in the eponymous documentary to which five acclaimed documentarians have contributed in varying degrees of success.

The most interesting segment, from Alex Gibney, is about corruption in the supposedly pure sport of sumo wrestling. Morgan Spurlock looks at how the names we are born with affect our fates, with particular attention given to the names of black babies and to the economic divide that exists transracially as keyed to one’s name.

Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing’s segment deals with an experiment in the Chicago public school system to offer cash incentives to students to improve their grades. (It sort of worked.) Eugene Jarecki explores Dubner and Levitt’s controversial theory that the sharp drop in American urban crime rates nationwide that started in the early 1990s was primarily due to the legalization of abortion a generation before – thereby cutting back on the number of unwanted children who would otherwise in their youth have moved into a life of crime.

Recommended: Bestselling books the week of 5/29/14, according to IndieBound*

The film is provocative but also scattershot and not nearly as conclusive as it pretends to be. The almost complete absence of naysayers in any of the sections is a tip-off that the game is rigged. Grade: B- (Rated PG-13 for elements of violence, sexuality/nudity, drugs, and brief strong language.)

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