The Emperor’s New Clothes

A Russel Brand-sized headache

“There’s nothing in this film you don’t already know.”

Comedian and self-styled activist Russel Brand kicks off his documentary about greed, the financial crisis and whatever else he’s angry at this week with this little comment. It’s a warning to the few people who might go and see this film who don’t believe he’s a profound intellect of some sort or aren’t wowed by his trademark whimsical cynicism that you have just paid to endure two hours of this man shouting at you.

Adopting techniques to please a crowd utilised by the very politicians he mercilessly mocks, Brand wanders around pseudo-engaging with passers-by on the street, literally kissing babies when opportunity knocks. The documentary intermittently cuts to a face-to-camera view of Brand ranting at us with his own platitudes and nuggets of wisdom, words he says popping up on the screen to his side to labour his point. This is a technique made famous by conservative Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly and then famously lampooned by Stephen Colbert in his segment the ‘Word,’ Brand’s choc shots of enlightenment are neither revelatory nor at times intelligible.

To fill time, Brand loiters in the lobbies of major corporations, pestering desk staff and security to be let up to meet the CEO, something that didn’t work for Michael Moore 15 years ago. Partly redeeming The Emperor’s New Clothes are the few scenes where Brand gives it a rest and lets others do the talking. Interviewing a number of UK residents in dire welfare situations, experts in financial regulation, participants in the 2011 London riots and notably a campaigner for sufferers of cerebral palsy, Brand elicits moving personal stories of individuals adversely affected by government decisions and the fallout from the financial crisis.

Attacking among others Topshop, Rupert Murdoch, Apple and Manchester United, the few small facts about corporate greed he is able to convey through innumerable sound-bites are overshadowed by acts like Brand grabbing a megaphone and driving through Canary Wharf, screaming at third-story windows at the top of his lungs.

The financial crisis worsened in part because powerful individuals were shamelessly flogging a product which they knew didn’t have much value. Brand doesn’t do himself any favours in this regard. Rendering himself authoritative only by virtue of his self-proclaimed expertise and British accent, if watching a grown man causing potential traffic hazards sounds like your thing, or Brand just gets you, then sure, go give this man your money. Otherwise, stay away, stay far, far away.

On FilmInk