If Russell Brand is worried about his message of economic equality getting eclipsed by his self-aggrandizing, his new documentary with director Michael Winterbottom, The Emperor’s New Clothes, doesn’t show it.
Or maybe he’s making fun of himself. At least he’s putting his magnetic charisma toward a good cause. (Though wearing a Ron Paul “rEVOLution” T-shirt while cheering public housing residents’ fight against the privatization of their homes does send mixed messages.)
In a Michael Moore–ish turn, Brand enters the London headquarters of many of the world’s biggest banking conglomerates, asking to speak to each firm’s big boss, whose financial crimes he has detailed. In almost every case, he’s met by security guards, usually men of color, who politely but firmly stop him. In some of the buildings, Winterbottom captures the employees on the upper floors, gawking, as their guards — who are certainly paid tiny fractions of the bankers’ salaries — struggle against Brand’s equally polite pushing.
Whether you find yourself rolling your eyes at the stunt, feeling bad for the guards (who, no matter where their sympathies lie, cannot let him through for fear of losing their jobs), or wondering if the wealthy on the upper floors realize anyone can see these men doing their dirty work for them, it does present a more nuanced picture of the state of economic affairs than you might expect from a man who once considered refusing to vote activism. It can be hard to take someone so pleased with himself seriously, but amid his grandstanding, Brand does offer some solutions to problems many of us rightfully feel are intractable.
The Emperor’s New Clothes
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Opens December 16, IFC Center
Available on demand