Freakanomics: The Movie – DVD Review

What happens when you take the documentarians behind Client 9, Jesus Camp, Super Size Me and Why We Fight (amongst others) and let them film parts of a best-selling novel?

Freakanomics: The Movie.

Adapted from the novel “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” by Stephen J. Duber and Steven D. Levitt, Freakanomics the film covers the same subject as the book by allowing documentary film-makers to tackle Dubner and Levitt’s economic theories as applied to everyday life. When it was released as a novel it was rather revolutionary in how it applied economic theory to social motivations. The film is no less controversial as it tackles the theories Duber and Levitt posited and makes them into a more accessible format.

The ability of Duber and Levitt to let a handful of documentary filmmakers, as opposed to one, make their book into a film is a rather gutsy one. With this many credited directors there is the feeling that this ought to be an epic documentary ala Hoop Dreams. And there’s plenty of material to explore, as well, but there’s one inherent problem with the film: it’s too short, even for a documentary.

With the wealth of material available, and the amount of filmmakers used, Freakonomics is excessively short and doesn’t really delve into the material as deeply as it could. Watching the film you can tell that there could’ve been a two hour film in each segment as each film-maker has a strong grasp of the material and makes it entertaining. It’s just a quick perusal as opposed to the in-depth study the material demands and warrants. Right when it starts to suck you in and get remarkably interesting it shifts to something else. In the moment it’s strong and engaging, as Duber and Levitt made a wise decision by bringing on a handful of documentarians.

But it’s also a curse as a segment by Morgan Spurlock makes us yearn for 90 minutes of him tackling the subject in his signature style as opposed to what seems like 90 seconds. And it’s repeatable with the rest of this loaded directorial crew, as well. This is the kind of book that warrants a mini-series as opposed to a film. This should be the economic version of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series as opposed to one condensed film.

If this is the best we can do to get a fascinating book about economic theory applied to social situations into a film, this is the best Freakanomics film that could be made given the constraints.

Presented in a widescreen format with a Dolby Digital surround, this is a great looking film. The transfer is clean and clear. This isn’t a film that relies on a/v but it comes through wonderfully.

Each director gets a Commentary Track for the whole film.

HDNet’s Special about the film, a glorified EPK, as well as a text advertisement for the books are included.

Additional interviews with Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner are included but don’t add much back into the film.

If you’re a fan of the book, this is perhaps the best possible film that could be squeezed out of a handful of directors in a relatively short amount of time. It’s a nice primer and introduction to the book but it’s underwhelming at best.


Magnolia presents Freakanomics: The Movie. Directed by Heidi Ewing, Alex Gibney, Seth Gordon, Rachel Grady, Eugene Garecki, Morgan Spurlock. Starring Carl Alleyne, Zoe Sloane, Adesuwa Addy Iyare, Jade Viggiano, Sammuel Soifer, Jalani McNair, Andrew Greiche, Alyssa Wheeldon, Greg Crowe, Hassan Brown, Kelli Chaves, James Leibow, Michael MacAllister. Written by Peter Bull, Alex Gibney, Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock, Eugene Jarecki, Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, Seth Gordon based off the novel “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” by Stephen J. Duber and Steven D. Levitt. Running time: 92 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released on DVD and Blu-ray: January 18, 2011.

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