Larry Charles takes a cheap but revealing shot at religion
Religulous (15) Director Larry Charles. Documentary starring Bill Maher. 102 mins Four stars For most of its length this latest film from the director of Seinfeld and Borat is good knockabout fun, as American TV stand-up Bill Maher tries to expound a the
Director Larry Charles. Documentary starring Bill Maher. 102 mins
For most of its length this latest film from the director of Seinfeld and Borat is good knockabout fun, as American TV stand-up Bill Maher tries to expound a thesis on the evils of religion by travelling the world and interviewing various fanatics and bunkumistas of all faiths and creeds.
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Maher is not so well known over here but in the 90s his Politically Incorrect show meant he was the Jon Stewart of his time. He's not a personal favourite of mine and I can imagine many viewers wishing it could have been someone like Bill Hicks doing this.
Anyway the film is joyously, laughter-in-the-dark funny even if it's the equivalent of pointing and laughing at a village simpleton. The film is certainly not afraid of the cheap shot. After having to handle accusations of deceitful and misleading editing (and the odd lawsuits) over Borat, Larry Charles is more blatant here.
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Captions are put up on screen refuting what people are saying. Footage from old movies is inter-cut with interview footage to undermine or ridicule what the subject is saying. (The influence of Michael Moore and Adam "Power of Nightmares" Curtis mean that no documentary can be made without hours spent trawling through the archives.)
Not that the film is wholly underhand. Maher is often face to face disrespectful to most of the people he is interviewing
And entertaining as all this is you may think that the film would have more power if it allowed these people to have their say, if Maher could sometimes resist setting people up for a punch line, if it didn't race around cramming in so many different interviews (why waste precious minutes on a comatose Dutch man who may or may not have formed a religion based on marijuana?)
It may not be big or clever but it has a point - and as I'm effectively giving away the end you might consider this a spoiler - which is his closing argument that it's time for rational people to stand up for reason and stop respecting people's religious beliefs.
As a film essay Religulous is every bit as powerful as An Inconvenient Truth or Fahrenheit 9/11 and it will probably have as much influence as them - absolutely none.