The deeply ingrained American culture of buy now, pay later" is exposed in its seamy reality in this journey into the workings of modern financing and who they consider as their preferred customers." Getting rich while keeping the poor ever more indebted is the way it works in this portrait of a national nightmare that is both funny and infuriating. 2006/color/87 min/NR.
In Maxed Out
, author/director James D. Scurlock (Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders
) takes on America's debt crisis. Consequently, he touches on related issues like race, corporate malfeasance, and political subterfuge. Scurlocks multi-media approach incorporates statistics, news excerpts, and interviews, but it's rarely dull (comedy bits from Louis CK and tunes from Queen and Coldplay don't hurt). Speakers include economic professors, debt collectors, pawn brokers, investigative reporters, beleaguered consumers, and even Robin Leach (Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
). Instead of New York and Los Angeles, he concentrates on mid-size cities, like Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, and Seattle. Plenty of small towns also come into play. Though he never presses the point himself, Scurlock allows his subjects to note the similarities between the credit industry and the drug trade (others use such incendiary terms as "rape"). One thing he neglects to mention, however, is pride. If house payments are ruining your life, selling that property may be the only solution. In most cases, however, it's hard not to feel for those individuals who didn't know what they were getting into before they signed their lives away. For some viewers, this will be a dispiriting documentary--three subjects recount the suicides of relatives who found their debt too much to bear--but in explaining exactly how lenders and creditors make money, Maxed Out
can help others to avoid some of their most egregious practices. In other words, debt may be a downer, but knowledge is
power. --Kathleen C. Fennessy