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Robert Kenner
Stanton Glanz, Sam Rowe, Patricia Callahan, Bill O'Keefe
Robert Kenner and Kim Roberts

A documentary that looks at pundits-for-hire who present themselves as scientific authorities as they speak about topics like toxic chemicals, pharmaceuticals and climate change.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$20,300 on 4 Screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Audio Descriptive Service 5.1
Chinese Simplified
Chinese Traditional
Supplements Subtitles:
Chinese Traditional

Runtime: 93 min.
Price: $38.99
Release Date: 7/7/2015

• Audio Commentary with Director Robert Kenner
• “An Evening at the Toronto International Film Festival with Robert Kenner”
• “Unlikely Voices” Featurettes
• Trailer
• Previews
• DVD Copy


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Merchants of Doubt (2014)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 6, 2015)

According to an old adage, “liars never prosper”. The subjects of a 2015 documentary called Merchants of Doubt would argue otherwise.

Inspired by a 2010 book of the same name, Doubt looks at “pundits for hire” who offer contrarian viewpoints about scientific subjects. The film offers interviews with magician Jamy Ian Swiss, anti-smoking crusader Stanton Glantz, journalists Sam Rowe and Patricia Callahan, climate scientists Ben Santer, Katherine Hayhoe and James Hansen, environmentalist John Passacantando, former Global Climate Coalition chairman Bill O’Keefe, science historian Naomi Oreskes, physicists Fred Singer and Frederick Seitz, Skeptic Society director Michael Shermer, former George C. Marshall Institute executive director Matthew Crawford, Heartland Institite’s James Taylor, environmental journalist Marc Morano, Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips, and former Congressman Bob Inglis.

Doubt looks at the history of obfuscation in the tobacco industry as well as similar debates related to flame retardants and climate change. The program examines methods used to promote various agendas.

Going into Doubt, I expected to hear largely – if not solely – from the “spin doctors” who give the film its title. The documentary promises to get to the heart of those who lie and deceive to promote their agendas.

Unfortunately, Doubt does little of this. Instead, it mostly prefers to advance evidence for the sides it espouses. This means we hear a lot of the proof for climate change and the other areas and we see all the efforts to counter these notions.

So shouldn’t the movie be called Merchants of Truth - or Merchants of Truth As Endorsed By Director Robert Kenner? That shouldn’t be viewed as an indication I side with those who argue against climate change – and God knows I fully agree that smoking and poisonous chemicals are bad.

I don’t object to the notions that climate change, smoking and hazardous fire retardants cause problems, but I do take issue with the way Doubt approaches its issues. Does it count as ironic that a movie that criticizes propaganda exists as its own form of blatant propaganda?

That may sound harsh, but it’s how I see Doubt. The film offers little room for debate or discussion, as it pushes its own agenda without even a vague acknowledgement that other sides could be valid.

Heck, I might not mind that as much if Doubt at least sorta kinda attempted balance, but it doesn’t. Even the methods it uses work to make the commentators it likes look good and the “merchants of doubt” appear bad.

Take the interviews with Morano, for instance. While subjects such as Oreskes and Passacantando are allowed clear, neatly edited segments, those with Morano seem much rougher. We see outtakes from his interview session that make him look glib and insincere.

Doubt also ignores the fact that lies/deceit exist on both sides of the aisle. It takes a wholly anti-corporate point of view because that’s the easy way to go – who wants to stand up for big business?

But does anyone believe that parties on the “right side of the debate” don’t obfuscate and tinker with facts themselves? At least a token examination of liberal “merchants of doubt” would’ve done a lot to make this a more three-dimensional program.

When a film about the negative effects of propaganda adopts those same techniques for its own ends, I can’t take the end product too seriously. Doubt hammers us over the head with its own agenda and doesn’t vaguely attempt any form of balance. This isn’t a documentary – it’s a one-sided editorial.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C+/ Bonus C+

Merchants of Doubt appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The image reproduced the source well.

Doubt mixed material shot specifically for the film with archival elements. The latter showed the inevitable ups and downs. They could look good but they also could be messy and flawed. Those results seemed inevitable given the nature of the footage.

As for the components created specifically for Doubt, sharpness was mostly solid. Shot on high-def video, only a smattering of soft shots appeared, so the majority of the program seemed accurate and crisp. I saw no shimmering or jaggies, and edge haloes failed to appear. Print flaws also didn’t interfere with the image.

Colors tended toward a natural feel and seemed appropriate. While they didn’t leap off the screen, they showed positive reproduction. Blacks were dark and deep, and low-light shots displayed nice clarity. All in all, the image satisfied.

One wouldn’t expect much from the documentary’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, and the mix seemed restrained. Effects were essentially a non-factor, and the back channels offered little material. Much of the film focused on speech, and those lines stayed in the front center. Music offered positive stereo imaging.

Audio quality appeared fine. Again, effects were a minor element; the bits and pieces we heard were accurate but stayed in the background. Music stayed gentle but seemed smooth and distinctive, while speech appeared natural and concise. Though nothing impressive, the mix fit the documentary.

In terms of extras, we get an audio commentary with director Robert Kenner. He provides a running, screen-specific look at sources and editing, participants and interviews, music, and related subjects.

Kenner presents a pretty lackluster commentary, though the chat does improve as it progresses. At the start, Kenner tells us little of interest, but he provides more substantial information as the movie goes. This still ends up as a mostly mediocre discussion, though, without a lot of insights.

We hear from the director via the 17-minute, 44-second An Evening at the Toronto International Film Festival with Robert Kenner. In this piece, Kenner discusses the interviews he conducted and the participants, aspects of the film’s creation, and thoughts about its potential impact. Some of the material repeats from the commentary, but we get a few new thoughts here.

Unlikely Voices fills a total of five minutes, 24 seconds and gives us comments from: Atlanta Tea Party leader Debbie Dooley, former Secretary of State George Schultz, and Swiss Re Americas CEO J. Eric Smith. Dooley talks about efforts to fight power companies, Schultz covers how Republicans used to champion environmentalism, and Smith reviews the impact of climate change on the insurance business. All are interesting, and the Schultz segment should’ve made the final cut.

The disc begins with ads for Red Army, The Salt of the Earth, Aloft, Infinitely Polar Bear, Jimmy’s Hall and Lambert & Stamp. We also get the trailer for Doubt.

A second disc presents a DVD copy of Doubt. It includes the film’s trailer and the previews but lacks other extras.

While Merchants of Doubt examines a potentially fascinating subject, it does so in a less than even-handed manner. This makes it seem intellectually dishonest, as it can be guilty of the sins it sees in others. The Blu-ray offers acceptable picture and audio as well as decent supplements. Doubt has its moments but lacks the depth it needs to succeed.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
0 3:
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