Directed by Nathaniel Thomas McGill, Vincent Vittorio
Starring Mark Andol, Merrie Buchsbaum
Documentary Film Review by Lucas Wilson
In some respects one might call American Made Movie prophetic. Its central thrust, an argument for an insular American economy, where American made products are bought by American people for other American people, might sound suspiciously familiar but do bear in mind that Nathaniel Thomas McGill and Vincent Vittorio’s documentary was made in 2013, long before its positions were proclaimed with far less sensitivity by a rather well-known figure with even more well-known hair. And although Mr. Trump would applaud the ideas, the execution has a subtlety which, with the best of intentions, few Trump supporters would say he’s exemplified. In fact it’s the lack of sledgehammer provocations that make American Made Movie a rather relaxing watch. Additionally, there’s a welcome debt to Michael Moore, the interspersing of real life stories within the arc of big concepts being the main mode of argument.
We get to meet some rather appealing characters within that mode. Foremost of these is Mark Andol, an entrepreneur who, unable to compete with China and other overseas markets, has struggled under the weight of economic globalisation. While the impact of these challenges has led him to cut staff, a number of which were personal friends, we’re invited to watch as he attempts to create a new business, an all American superstore, which itself is an ironic commentary on the economic change he's experienced since the 80s and 90s boom years. The incandescent belief in the American values of enterprise and goodness which radiate from Andol, genuinely moving without ever being arrogant, make him an almost George Bailey figure and, if nothing else, are a testament to the large team of researchers behind American Made Movie who certainly chose their central character with cunning and intelligence.
Elsewhere however, it’s never the object of in-depth analysis that Andol’s troubles stem from decisions made by the American business class (though it is brushed over awkwardly and in the hope that you won’t examine it too closely) and, by deciding not to address that rather pressing issue in any meaningful way, McGill and Vittorio open the door to speculation about their motives. Are we to think that they believe that “greed is good” so long as it’s the host country that benefits? Are they afraid of upsetting the wrong people? If so, it’s here that they depart from Michael Moore and the film (while few of us want a re-run of Moore badgering a dying Charlton Heston) is poorer for it. Danielle Cognetta’s fancy visual effects, as fun and accomplished as they are, never make up for this glaring lack of courage which is a fatal flaw in an otherwise highly professional and, at times, engaging documentary.