6.9

I.O.U.S.A.

Movies Reviews Ron Paul
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I.O.U.S.A.

Release Date: August 22

Director: Patrick Creadon

Writer: Patrick Creadon, Christine O'Malley, Addison Wiggin

Starring: Robert Bixby, David Walker, Ron Paul, Warren Buffett

Studio/Run Time: Roadside Attractions, 85 mins.


It's possible that filmmaker Patrick Creadon's greatest accomplishment in his new film, I.O.U.S.A., is turning U.S. fiscal policy into a funny piece of entertainment. That trick alone was enough for his first film, Wordplay, where he turned a crossword puzzle tournament into a genuine nail-biter. But this time, he's chosen an even less cinematic topic and bears a far more urgent message, namely, that we're in a heap of trouble.

Speed RacerThe U.S. government is burying the country under an ever-growing mountain of debt, say Creadon's talking heads. Self-described as nonpartisans, Robert Bixby of the Concord Coalition and David Walker of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation are on a mission to turn the tide. Normally they're writing papers and giving speeches, but participating in Creadon's documentary must be their best attempt yet to reach the average Joe, not because Creadon is a particularly good director, but because he's willing to jazz up a rather ordinary string of interviews with funny (but relevant) clips from Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report.
The movie does a remarkably good job of describing the core of the problem in simple terms: political forces in our country make cutting taxes and providing new services relatively easy. Combine those two impulses and you end up with $9 trillion in debt.
But when things get a little more complex, the film seems to lean toward entertainment at the expense of clarity. Ron Paul (presented as a voice of reason and an expert witness) delivers information at a rapid clip that spells fun, but viewers should hope their screening doesn't end with a pop quiz in the lobby. Warren Buffet speaks at a more comfortable pace, but the editors have snipped away the spaces between his comments, making them more compact but harder to absorb. And even the animation provided for Buffet's fable about "Thriftville and Squanderville" is more confusing than helpful.
I also question the way the film, via the people on the screen, repeatedly lumps Social Security and Medicare together, two programs that work very differently and have vastly different issues. Medicare's looming trouble is based on the rising cost of health care, arguably dwarfing the lesser problem of a Social Security shortfall. I.O.U.S.A. has a neat way of showing the relative sizes of dollar values, letting a seemingly large amount shrink into a spec when surrounded by even larger amounts. So it's unfortunate that it doesn't use that visual ingenuity to give a more accurate view of the entitlement problem, and it’s too bad that Creadon doesn’t have additional similar tricks up his sleeve.