In 1966, General Motors, the most powerful corporation in the world, sent private investigators to dig up dirt on an obscure thirty-two year old public interest lawyer named Ralph Nader, who had written a book critical of one of their cars, the Corvair. The scandal that ensued after the smear campaign was revealed launched Ralph Nader into national prominence and established him as one of the most admired Americans and the leader of the modern Consumer Movement. Over the next thirty years and without ever holding public office, Nader built a legislative record that is the rival of any contemporary president. Many things we take for granted including seat belts, airbags, product labeling, no nukes, even the free ticket you get after being bumped from an overbooked flight are largely due to the efforts of Ralph Nader and his citizen groups. Yet today, when most people hear the name "Ralph Nader," they think of the man who gave the country George W. Bush. As a result, after sustaining his popularity and effectiveness over an unprecedented amount of time, he has become a pariah even among former friends and allies. How did this happen? Is he really to blame for George W. Bush? Who has stuck by him and who has abandoned him? Has our democracy become a consumer fraud? After being so right for so many years, how did he seem to go so wrong? With the help of exciting graphics, rare archival footage and over forty on-camera interviews conducted over the past two years, "An Unreasonable Man" traces the life and career of Ralph Nader, one of the most unique, important, and controversial political figures of the past half century.
As the title of his biography puts it, Ralph Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon
. Without him, automobiles would be less safe... and Al Gore would've been elected president. Well, one of those statements is not in dispute. Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan's illuminating documentary begins in the 1950s with Nader's career as a consumer advocate and ends with his more recent reputation as election spoiler. Along the way, they look at a provincial childhood steeped in politics (his parents were community activists). Throughout, they speak with a broad spectrum of interested observers, including Phil Donahue, Pat Buchanan, Howard Zinn--even Bill Murray. They also feature commentary from the man himself. George Bernard Shaw provides the provocative title. In context, it sums up the film's perspective: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man." So, on the one hand, Nader has saved thousands of lives. On the other, his third party candidacy ruined the 2000 election for many voters. An Unreasonable Man
may not convince anyone that the campaign was a wise move, but Skrovan and Mantel, a former Nader associate, make a convincing case that he's a Democrat in the truest sense, i.e. a man committed to the idea that one citizen can
make a difference. This Sundance Grand Jury Prize nominee is necessary viewing for any person interested in American politics--which should
be everyone. --Kathleen C. Fennessy