The Emperor's New Clothes: Film Review
Cast: Russell Brand, The People of Britain, CassetteBoy
Director: Michael Winterbottom
"Everything you're gonna hear in this film, you already know."
The opening words from social activist and public court jester / enfant terrible Russell Brand sets this tone for a polemic aimed squarely at putting the wrongs of modern day Britain up on the screen and inciting discord.
Basically, an extended essay on the ills of the UK and how the rich are getting richer and the poorer are getting poorer, Brand's focus in this doco is purely aimed at trying to get any banker involved in the ills of the socio-economic world facing the consequences of their action.
He's got a fair point, and both he and Winterbottom use stark lingering print to emphasise their points, stir the pot and galvanise the masses into action. But with Brand lobbing in such lines as "If you're not angry enough to kick a pig into a ditch, then you ain't understanding", it's clear the focus is more on using his charisma and comic Cockney boy larrikin approach to the matter rather than a full on in-depth critique of the situation and a raft of eggheads to back him up.
If that sounds like a criticism, it's not.
Brand's easy-going appeal is understandable as he interviews various people in various differing dire situations - from a parent of two who is getting by earning a decent wage but only just managing to a near-mute cleaner who cuts a solitary figure as he boards London's tube to clean overnight at department store John Lewis before traipsing off to work a similar shift at a pub straight after. These are grim circumstances indeed and even the mischievous Brand seems at a loss to understand why the average Joe is suffering when the fatcats are getting fatter and the inequality gap is growing.
Using handpicked facts, archive footage of life in the old days around his home town of Greys in Essex, a series of sequences where he drives around an A Board with a "Shop A Banker" motif, and his disarming charm, Brand's fairly persuasive as he uses his once over lightly facts and figures to highlight the shocking growth between the haves and the have-nots in the UK. Clips of politicians are dropped in here and there to present a juxtaposition to the hypocrisy of their fatuous election promises and the reality of their cuts; PM David Cameron intones how it's a better Britain over a montage of those we've come to know and empathise with as the beats and slogans grow to a crescendo. There's a revolution brewing if Brand has his way.
While he's to be commended for his subversive approach to all of this, it does feel at times like Brand's essentially grandstanding and espousing absurdisms that UK satirist Chris Morris wouldn't be afraid to use (at once decrying Thatcher as Jesus with a hair helmet) the comedy softens the message he's trying to get across.
Though it could also be argued, given that nobody in officialdom will front up (surprise, surprise) Brand's never anywhere but with the huddled masses, an empathetic voice more concerned with the suffering than the shareholders (again, not a bad thing given a lack of accountability) but it may have paid to see him on the sidelines a little more.
Perhaps the most telling sequences are when he tries to interview the heads of the banks involved (the HSBC, RBS) by walking casually into their lobbies. Granted, he stands not a hope in hell, but by talking to the security guards who hold him and reeling off the facts of the financials of the bosses, you kind of feel like he's being quite crafty; on the one hand, he's showing his loqacious intelligence that he would display if the bosses came to chat but on the other, there's a distinct feeling that Brand's sowing the seeds of rebellion from the ground up - there's no denying the subversive power of his facts and there's no escaping the possibility those seeds could grow.
Ultimately, the facts of the matter of The Emperor's New Clothes are hard to deny; the inequality is appalling and Brand's presentation is contagious. He may not have succeeded in rallying the troops and rolling the current government at the ballot boxes with this and his comedy / news show The Trews, but he -along with Winterbottom - certainly display a flair for 21st century documentary making. With shrewd soundbites, curt editing and brilliant use of Cassette Boy's mash-ups, this is an appalling and occasionally intelligently subversive indictment of the world we now live in.
The most Brand can hope for is change, the most we can hope for as an audience is the start of that discussion - don't be surprised if The Emperor's New Clothes gets under your skin and opens your eyes.