WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Henriette Mantel & Steve Skrovan
IFC First Take/Red Envelope
You wouldn't be reading this review or contemplating a viewing of "An Unreasonable Man," a feature-length documentary based upon the life and career of consumer activist turned presidential candidate Ralph Nader, unless you already had an opinion about the man who has been seen as both a savior for the consumer and a pariah to those who remainly deeply bitter over the 2000 presidential election win by George W. Bush.
Ralph Nader is an unreasonable man. In "An Unreasonable Man," directors Henriette Mantel (a former Nader staffer) and Steve Skrovan remind us why those of us who are fiercely devoted to independent politics, social reform and consumer protection fell in love with the singleminded determination of this Harvard educated lawyer who became one of America's most powerful spokespersons for your ordinary, average American.
As Mantel and Skrovan so powerfully illustrate, after a 50+ year career in the social and political spotlight, Nader has become such the epitome of unreasonableness that the very same traits we so embraced in him are now the ones that pushed away even many of his staunchly loyal Nader's Raiders.
"An Unreasonable Man" is most effective, however, in the film's first half while chronicling Nader's consumer activism including battles with General Motors and legislative battles for clean air, healthier meat and the list goes on and on. If it was hurting the average American, Nader became unafraid to tackle it with a fierce determination and selfless focus that compromised any semblance of a personal life or, to a great degree, even self-promotion. Virtually anyone would agree that Nader's battles were never about Nader, a fact often lost in the more entertaining social battles of documentarian Michael Moore.
It's during the film's second half when Mantel and Skrovan seem unable to present the remarkable shift of Nader from respected activist to political pariah. During the 2000 election, a remarkably close election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Ralph Nader ran as an independent and refused to withdraw even as it became apparent that he was drawing votes away from Gore.
The result? A Bush win and round after round of "the blame game." The same unreasonable nature that had improved the lives of countless Americans was, suddenly, the very thing that even Nader's closest advocates began to reject.
Unfortunately, the way that this rejection is chronicled in "An Unreasonable Man" borders on petty and whining throughout much of this film's final third. What had been a wonderfully enlightening and powerful film about the strengths and weaknesses of one of America's greatest independent voices suddenly,for at least a few moments, began to feel like a dignified episode of Jerry Springer.
Okay, that was a bit strong. Not really, though.
For those of us who fancy ourselves true independents...for those of us able to let go of the idea that this one, unreasonable man really altered life as we know it over the course of these eight, painfully long Bush years, "An Unreasonable Man" is, oddly enough, a remarkably reasonable, balanced and captivating look at one of America's most powerful voices over the last 50 years.
George Bernard Shaw once noted that it would take an unreasonable man to change the world. Love him or hate him, Ralph Nader is an unreasonable man.
- Richard Propes
The Independent Critic