Get ready to get angry. Of course, if you pay attention to the social and political dialogue surrounding climate change, you probably already are, and that spells trouble for Craig Rosebraugh’s outrage-doc, Greedy Lying Bastards. Provocative and inciting, the film very much preaches to the choir; if you believe, as you should, that global warming is happening right now, then Greedy Lying Bastards won’t do much more than serve as an ideological affirmation. On the other hand, Rosebraugh probably won’t change the minds of anyone who falls on the same side of the fence as career climate change deniers, at least not while he’s so busy being sarcastic and self-righteous.
Truthfully, he’s put together a well-researched and composed documentary, something akin to a Michael Moore film but without Moore’s over the top sense of spectacle or his sharp sense of humor. In fact, Rosebraugh– who riffs on Roger & Me by trying to force an interview with ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson– feels very much like a Moore acolyte, and Greedy Lying Bastards his homage to Moore’s style and documentarian approach. But Rosebraugh’s facts feel less dubious, and besides that he’s not simply making an info dump so much as he’s exposing the politicians, entrepreneurs, and moguls he considers culpable in the steady depletion of our planet’s natural resources. You need facts on your side to do that, obviously, but Greedy Lying Bastards focuses a great deal more on raking these people over the coals.
Frankly, they deserve it, and it’s hard to feel bad for the wrinkled, rapacious, oftentimes ancient and frequently Caucasian men who sneer at the idea of preserving the environment all in the name of personal gain. That, perhaps, is the best thing that can be said about Rosebraugh’s film: you won’t leave the theater with a lukewarm reaction. But that’s almost damning his work with faint praise, since it’s designed specifically to infuriate its audiences in one direction or the other.
To what end, though? Greedy Lying Bastards never at any point considers the opposition and instead remains content to steamroll the “bad guys” from start to finish, so Rosebraugh’s basically making a movie whose message his core audience already concurs with. Global temperatures really are rising; the increase can be attributed to human problems rather than naturally occurring ones; our addiction to fossil fuels has been harming our planet for ages; there are men in Washington and the business world who are actively fighting against measures to reduce our use of them. So we have an accord over what the problems are. The solutions, on the other hand, remain somewhat fuzzy.
Not that Rosebraugh doesn’t try to suggest resolutions to these various issues, but his best suggestions are exactly the sort of common sense notions most of us have likely come up with ourselves. Write to your Congressman. Reduce your own carbon footprint. Boycott goods sold by people like the Koch Brothers. (Good luck with that last one.) Maybe it’s unfair to expect Rosebraugh, a writer-activist, to spring an hour’s worth of tangible fixes on us, but one should reasonably hope for something a bit more authoritative than the usual college protest lines; in his defense, he at least makes the excellent point that everyone needs to unite and agree that climate change is a real dilemma before any significant action can be taken to combat it.
Unfortunately that doesn’t really make for compelling filmmaking. Rosebraugh’s actually at his best when he’s on the ground with people all over the world who are suffering at least partially due to climate change; whether he’s interviewing the people of Kivalina, Alaska, or Tuvalu, a Polynesian island nation, about the effect shifting weather patterns have had on their livelihood and culture, or speaking with victims of the 2012 wildfires in Colorado and droughts in Kansas, he shows a deft hand at capturing the woes inflicted upon them without exploiting their adversity.
That’s because no matter what else you might say about Rosebraugh, he very clearly cares. He’s certainly passionate about his subject, but all of that energy is underscored with a real humanitarian bent. Rosebraugh isn’t just out to make James Inhofe, Clarence Thomas, the country’s energy titans, and even Mitt Romney (slyly, Rosebraugh includes a clip of him pledging to “take care of your families” at last year’s RNC before cutting away to one Colorado family digging through the remains of their burned-down home) look like a bunch of amoral criminals; he wants to make a difference, and Greedy Lying Bastards is his contribution to the cause.
It’s just too bad that the picture rings so hollow. There are moments where Rosebraugh’s sentiment strikes true, human beats where the cost of doing business is quite blatantly implied to be far, far too high. But if you start off your activism documentary by claiming that events like super storm Sandy can be prevented, you’d better be prepared with a real whiz-bang plan for doing so. Instead, Rosebraugh primarily offers us his indignation, and we come out with little to show for it in the end.