Merchants of Doubt Blu-ray Review

    Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Closed-captioned, Widescreen, DVD-ROM
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: French, Portuguese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Indonesian, Thai, Turkish, Spanish, English
  • Audio Description: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: PG-13 
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: July 7, 2015
  • Run Time: 90 minutes

  •          These days a political documentary doesn’t seem effective unless it has the ability to infuriate the audience, seemingly to cause some type of action to remedy the social maladies examined. While Merchants of Doubt is certainly able to achieve this with its examination of marketing and public relation spin doctors, what is unexpected is the amount of humor and levity inserted into the exasperating subject matter. With Merchants of Doubt, filmmaker Robert Kenner is able to find an impressive balance between historical information, entertainment, and a call to action. The information is not entirely groundbreaking or new, but provides a concise picture for those who were previously unaware to the shady dealings of powerful corporations.


            Inspired by the acclaimed book from Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, Kenner’s film makes an inspired comparison between the media manipulation of powerful corporations and politicians and the trickery and deception of a magic show. The narrative is book-ended by magicians explaining the methods that they employ to distract their audiences from where the truth in their illusion resides, and then the correlations are made in the actions of pundits representing special interest groups. By breaking down the organizations that are in support of these controversial companies and ideas, it becomes clear that there is a conflict of interest and manipulation of truth happening. Ultimately, their only goal seems to be causing enough doubt to delay any real changes in policy or public opinion.


            The model for much of this modern marketing spin comes from the tobacco company, which lied and hid the truth about cigarette health hazards for as long as they could, ensuring a delay in the drop of sales. From this manipulation of marketing came a number of similar approaches, tellingly led by many of the same pundits. These so-called experts are charming and eloquent public speakers able to out-argue many of the real scientific experts, showing that many Americans tend to believe what sounds best rather than actually looking at the real facts.


            One of the most frustrating aspects of the documentary is a near admiration that Kenner seems to have with the hired advocates, as they shamelessly go against scientific evidence while even admitting that they are not dealing with the facts as much as public opinion and doubt. Just as the truth about cigarettes was buried as long as possible, we are seeing similar patterns in the discussion about climate change. This is where the film finds a majority of its material, and proves to remain a very volatile subject for many Americans. For some this may muddle the main focus of the film, which is about the men who are hired to spread confusion rather than scientific facts. These men are the fascinating center of the subject, mostly because they show no regret or shame for their actions, even on the rare occasion that they admit to having no expertise or background for making their arguments.


            The Blu-ray release of Kenner’s polished documentary contains a handful of additional deleted scenes, along with two more extras that provide the filmmaker’s personal insight. The highlight of the extras is a commentary track with director Robert Kenner, and an additional featurette with the filmmaker at the Toronto International Film Festival is also included.   


    Entertainment Value: 8.5/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 8/10

    Historical Significance:  7.5/10

    Special Features: 7/10

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