Sadly, the majority of those who will see Greedy Lying Bastards are already aware of the messages it bears: that the fossil fuel combustion waste of post-industrial civilization has directly contributed to increasingly violent and erratic weather, that climate-change denial is funded by oil corporations who’ve bought off the necessary politicians and talking heads, and that it’s easier to sell doubt than facts through a dumbed-down, soundbite-reliant media. But as an info doc that manages to almost entirely avoid the snarky pitfalls that have in the past worked against the intentions of similarly impassioned filmmakers, it’s a notable effort and one that might even sway some of those inundated with the propaganda it effectively deconstructs if they could only be strapped down before it, Clockwork Orange-style.
What Craig Scott Rosebraugh’s film lacks in originality (treading on the heels not only of the Oscar-nominated Chasing Ice, but the excellent The Island President, to say nothing of Spike Lee’s recent HBO documentaries and the countless docs inspired by An Inconvenient Truth), it makes up for in comprehensiveness, effectively condensing several decades’ worth of mounting political corruption into a coherent, linear narrative, backed up by data and molded into something that’s blessedly far from the condescending gimmickry of Morgan Spurlock. The wildfires that swept through Colorado Springs in June 2012—destroying over 350 homes—make for an effective jumping-off point, a natural repercussion to our environmental recklessness that’s perhaps even more terrifying than hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, if only for the greater unpredictability of such devastating blazes.
Rosebraugh’s thesis is a simple one, and one that should be obvious to anyone with eyes, ears, scientific curiosity, and an allergy to bullshit: Powerful corporations lobby to protect their short-term financial interests at the long-term expense of the environment—and pretty much everyone else. In a film with no shortage of evidence of corruption and hypocrisy, none zings more than when corporate puppet Mitt Romney pops up to announce that, unlike Barack Obama’s efforts to lower climbing heat indexes and rising ocean levels, his promise “is to help you and your family.” Cut to a home engulfed in a wildfire blaze, lost with it countless memories.
There are instances where Rosebraugh’s righteousness gets the better of him, such as his surmising that the lobbyists and tycoons who don’t return his calls are too busy with their plans for world domination, and one wishes that such simmering anger were either left out completely or embraced head-on, instead of shooting out sporadically, almost passive aggressively. Yet these minor warts practically disappear amid what’s otherwise a carefully staged and level-headed attack on the likes of the Koch brothers and those they empower, culminating in Rosebraugh’s infiltration of an Exxon Mobile shareholders meeting, where CEO Rex Tillerson admits to the likelihood of impending global danger only to pussyfoot around any acknowledgement of responsibility. Greedy Lying Bastards isn’t great cinema, but it’s effective activism.