There have been a lot of documentaries made about money in politics. ‘Pay 2 Play: Democracy’s High Stakes’ is one of the newer entries and, while it is clearly exhaustively researched, its presentation leaves more than a little to be desired.
The film attempts to make its case against corporate personhood and money as means of free speech, weaving a narrative around a few famous Supreme Court cases (Citizens United and Hobby Lobby), the Occupy Wall Street Movement, “stand your ground” laws, and many other somewhat recent events that fit into this discourse. While filmmaker John Wellington Ennis’ goal is admirable the complexity of the story he is attempting to tell clearly takes a toll. From the film’s perspective the narrative of how we got to now appears fairly linear and straightforward, i.e. this happened and then this and now we’re here, but this is a glaring oversimplification. Not that Ennis does not understand this. The way the film is done was likely a judgment call aimed at making it more digestible for a general audience. Unfortunately, if anything, the way it is organized makes the whole thing more difficult to understand. There’s a lot of information being thrown around about a lot of different subjects that are possibly related, but little to no time is spent piecing the whole thing together.
‘Pay 2 Play’ has a typical documentary format with the story progressing through the usage of interviews and commentary. Notable persons here include Robert Reich, Noam Chomsky, professor/activist Lawrence Lessig, and shamed former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. To Ennis’ credit he does attempt to be somewhat neutral and show all sides of the issue, garnering commentary from talking heads from all over the political spectrum.
There are a lot of things to like about ‘Pay 2 Play.’ It is overly informative, illustrating and tying together vivid stories in a way that evokes some of the reaction John Wellington Ennis was likely going for. However, it is also rapid fire and haphazard in its delivery, basically throwing everything plus the kitchen sink at viewers hoping that something sticks. It is good that this movie forces audiences to question things, but a bit too much of that questioning will be related to what they just saw rather than the issues at hand.
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