It’s starting to feeling like at least 50% of the documentary industry is dedicated to making films about climate change. Don’t get me wrong: obviously it’s a major issue that’s only getting worse and more devastating than predicted. The trouble is that ever since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth blew up at the box office and the Oscars, there’s been a cavalcade of these movies tumbling onto screens. Craig Scott Rosebraugh’s not-so-subtly titled Greedy Lying Bastards is the latest in a long line of climate change documentaries and it’s a fairly interesting piece of work. The only problem is that it’s rather repetitive and the filmmaker succumbs to some pointed smugness that would even make Michael Moore blush. Still it’s undeniably fascinating, terrifying and entertaining. You’ve just got to be willing to dive into this subject matter one more time fully understanding that you’ll be relearning quite a few facts, figures, and arguments you’ve heard about a bazillion times before. Worth a look to be sure, just be prepared to take a headfirst dive back into a drying liberal doc well.
Rosebraugh opens his film with footage of families whose houses and businesses were destroyed by some of the tragically all too rare natural disasters that have been brought about by climate change. So far so familiar, but from there Greedy Lying Bastards differentiates itself by changing focus to the politicians, CEOs, and lobbyists who have gone out of their way to conceal and cover up the effects of global warming over the last few decades. As you might have guessed, those folks are in fact the greedy lying bastards from the title. So Rosebraugh isn’t exactly subtle in his approach, but he is certainly a worthy subject for a film. The fear mongering, palm greasing, and lies spread by the titular bastards throughout Washington and through the media is rather disgusting and deserves as much attention as possible. The filmmaker starts his attack by drawing comparisons between the climate change denial movement with tobacco heads called to task in the 80s/90s. The familiar footage of those CEOs sweating through interviews and depositions is still amusing and the only real difference between them and the big business brains behind cutting down global warming is that they are better at choosing their public speakers.
The doc’s primary antagonists will be familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of this subject. We’re talking about the Koch brothers and Exxon, of course, and Rosebraugh details all of their dirty tactics. Buying politicians, creating ridiculous “experts” to appear on their sponsored TV networks, etc. You’ve heard it before, but it doesn’t make it any less frightening. The director pulls out some pretty spectacular footage of awkward congressional hearings and news broadcasts to back up his claims as well as bringing in plenty of actual scientific experts to explain the, you know, facts that go against every lie the anti-climate change propaganda experts spin. It’s kind of a Coles Notes version of the issue, compiling all of the most frightening facts, statistics, and archival footage into one place to fuel the fires of the informed and catch up the newbies in one place. Rosebraugh thankfully has a snappy sense of pacing as well, ensuring that it all flows out naturally and quickly without ever feeling like a dryly academic exercise.
The only real problem with the film (aside from the general repetitiveness) is the fact that Rosebraugh can be his own worst enemy as a whistle blower. While everything he says and shows is true, at times he presents it rather smugly as his own narrator and can often be a little too manipulative for his own good. It’s the old Michael Moore problem. He takes a very “holier than thou” approach to his narration, drops a few cheap shots, and even introduces himself as an onscreen character trying fruitlessly to get in touch with interview subjects on the other side who clearly won’t be involved with his film. That sort of material doesn’t normally bother me in Michael Moore movies since he’s primarily a humorist, essayist, and entertainer, so one-sided personality filmmaking kind of goes without saying. However, Rosebraugh presents himself as a straight up honorable truth-spreader for the people and if you’re going to that, you can’t come off as a superior jerk. It’s not enough to kill the movie, but Greedy Lying Bastards definitely could have benefited from hiring Morgan Freeman or even a Morgan Freeman impersonator to back this diatribe in docile authoritative tones rather than Rosebraugh’s nasal rants of self-satisfied snark. Still, the content of the movie far outweighs any of the annoying traits of the filmmaker. There are sadly far too many greedy lying bastards out there and people should know about them. You know, because they are bastards and also they lie. Ask Craig Scott Rosebraugh, he’ll tell you all about it. According to the end of his documentary, you can find him marching towards congress triumphantly in slow motion.