Not taking anything away from Scorsese's Wolf of Wall Street, this documentary about the company behind the financing of that film, will see your jaw drop to the floor. If for nothing else, this investigative documentary is necessary viewing for a scene featuring a recorded phone call with Robert De Niro.
Due to a certain reality TV star and property owner becoming the leader of the free world, American politics has come under a fair amount of scrutiny recently with the rest of the world sitting back and watching what appears to be the Government eat itself. The gap between the common man and political leader has never appeared so defined. And yet, Trump getting into office seems like a forgone conclusion when you consider the topic of Kimberly Reed’s documentary, Dark Money.
In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not ban corporate spending in candidate elections, which came as a shock to many. No more so than the state of Montana who, since 1912, had declared that corporations could not make financial contributions of any kinds in a state election. With the state’s hands effectively tied behind its back, Dark Money explores the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decision using local government as a stand in for the country as a whole.
Reed (Prodigal Sons) paints a portrait of patriotic monikered advocacy groups funneling money to fund partisan advertising and, let’s be honest, influence political decisions. It’s a cut-throat business exemplified by a group wishing to dismantle Obamacare and inviting a politician to defend the health care system. Despite flyers promoting the town hall public debate, the politician in question is never actually invited to attend and when it becomes clear they’ve been hoodwinked, the public meeting is told by a coldly smiling PR agent that they’ve just misunderstood the purpose of the meeting. Gaslighting 101.
On top of this are slanderous flyers going out to potential voters that make wild claims about ‘unpatriotic’ candidates. In one, a candidate is painted as being someone who would let serial killer John Wayne Gacy off the hook. It’s jaw-droppingly insane how far these funded groups will go on behalf of their ‘clients’.
And at the heart of all this is that in the attempt to purge Montana of its moderate politicians, real issues are being woefully ignored. Issues such as an abandoned copper mine which could potentially be the next ecological disaster. Spoiler alert: it is.
Reed also follows John Adams, an investigative journalist who loses his job over the course of the film before rallying the troops and starting his own independent news group. It’s never explicitly said that Adams lost his job because of the things he uncovered, but it doesn’t say that he didn’t either.
Reed’s film will boil the blood of many. She is a passionate filmmaker who has a lot to say. Equally though, it is a film that has too much to say in 90 minutes and a lot of Dark Money appears to be spilling over the edges. It’s not helped by the fact that Reed is trying to squeeze a narrative spread over several years into such a short runtime. As such, the film is dense and, despite a nice turn with a whiteboard, hasn’t got time to breathe and spell things out for its audience.
You don’t need to have an in-depth knowledge of American politics, but at times, it feels like it would help. After all, there’s no doubt that this is an important subject to address, so it’s a shame to see it get drowned out by its own noise.