CUL DE SAC goes far beyond this apparently minor news story and provides extensive political, economic and social context that ties Nelson's life to the larger story of a working class community in decline.
Newsreels of a fat, happy San Diego in the 50s and 60s, the perfect representation of middle class aspirations for economic prosperity, are juxtaposed with contemporary images of shuttered defense plants, jobless blue-collar suburbanites, drug abusers, and police on patrol. Statements from police, historians and real estate agents sketch out the rise and fall of this military-fueled boomtown, and trace the area's social ills back to World War II, the Vietnam War and recent layoffs.
[A] terse, scrupulous film, the footage punctuates a bleak tale of a defense-industry town's boom and bust-once a Cold War capital of airplane and missile production, the San Diego suburb has decayed into a strip-mall wasteland... --The Village Voice
The film's Chamber of Commerce footage and implicit indictment of American industry's insensitivity to its labor force is reminiscent of Michael Moore's ROGER AND ME... [CUL DE SAC] provides an often surprising portrait of Nelson and his community, and its most compelling element is the physical presence, testimony, and reactions of Nelson's blue-collar neighbors and acquaintances...who attribute his death to the government's oppressive attitude towards working-class people and believe that his taking that tank was the act of 'someone finally standing up to the callousness and discompassion of the city. --Journal of American Culture