This documentary takes the viewer on a deeply personal journey into the everyday lives of families struggling to fight Goliath. From a family business owner in the Midwest to a preacher in California, from workers in Florida to a poet in Mexico, dozens of film crews on three continents bring the intensely personal stories of an assault on families and American values.Written by
Brave New Films
The parodies of Wal-Mart ads that appear in the film, and were used as trailers, which appear to have been shot in Wal-Mart stores are actually greenscreen shots in which the performer has been composited. See more »
At the start of the section where a market trader in London, England is leading a campaign against a new ASDA store, the map has has both Wales and England labelled as 'England' - the 'Eng' is written over Wales. Wales and England (and Scotland) are part of Great Britain; Great Britain, Wales (and Scotland) are not part of England. See more »
"Store Wars" redux: A corporate cancer that feeds on America
Robert Greenwald, a hard-hitting political activist documentary filmmaker ("Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism," "Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War"), comes out swinging in this incisive exploration of the retail marketing behemoth.
This film is the perfect sequel to Micha X. Peled's documentary, "Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town," shown on PBS in 2001. That film focused on a single community, Ashland, Virginia, showing the strategies Wal-Mart used to buy its way in, essentially bribing the town council, strapped for cash for urgently needed civic projects, and the extensive though in the end ineffectual efforts of townspeople to stop the building of a W-M superstore in their town. Two of the worst blights caused by Wal-Mart, unfair labor practices and the killing off of long established small businesses that had been the backbone of the community, are highlighted.
Greenwald picks up where "Store Wars" left off, looking at other worrisome aspects of the Wal-Mart movement through a broader, nationwide lens. We learn that because staff wages and benefits are so pitifully meager, thousands upon thousands of Wal-Mart employees in numerous states qualify for and regularly receive benefits from public assistance programs, even as they work. What's worse, Wal-Mart capitalizes on this phenomenon in the most cynical possible manner. As a matter of company policy, stores offer detailed advice to employees on how to access government benefits! We taxpayers are shouldering the financial burden Wal-Mart shirks: like employees, we too are unwitting pawns in a master corporate strategy.
Meanwhile, we see proof that Wal-Mart - after exacting multi-year tax concessions as part of sweetheart deals some communities make to attract stores (the opposite of the situation that was described in Ashland, Virginia) - will actually relocate a store to land barely outside the town boundaries just before tax breaks are scheduled to end, leaving a useless hulking shell of a building and zero local tax obligations behind them forever.
We learn about Wal-Mart's approach to unionization efforts. There is a specialized managerial swat team based at W-M headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. When news arrives that significant union organizing activity has begun at a particular store, the following day the union-busters are dispatched in a company Lear jet. The local store manager is reassigned and one of the team takes over. The others work to identify union activists and arrange for their swift dismissal. We also get more evidence, in case anybody needs it, about unfair labor practices. W-M defines full time employment as 28 hours/week, and often forces employees to work "off the clock" to get tasks achieved without providing any overtime pay.
We also learn about the cavalier stance W-M has on crime. Millions are spent on in-store video monitoring to prevent theft of goods. But it's a different story out in the vast and often poorly lit Wal-Mart parking lots. Here, nationwide, huge numbers of assaults, robberies, rapes and other crimes take place. Guess how much W-M spends for parking lot surveillance? You're right: nada, even when pushed and after agreeing to pay for regular patrols of lots, which make a huge positive difference, W-M often drags its feet in implementing reforms.
This film, like other Greenwald films, is skillfully crafted. He shows us a lot of talking heads, but not the usual suspects, i.e., the experts. Instead the heads are those of small business owners, their spouses, families and employees. And former Wal-Mart employees, including some who had held key managerial positions for nearly 20 years, real former insiders. We meet these people on their own turf. The wife of one businessman talks to us in her kitchen, ironing clothes all the while. It is a highly viewer-friendly approach to interviews.
We also get statistics, usually in small, digestible batches, but sometimes in large amounts presented too rapidly to fully take in. A problem with a number of the interviewees' assertions and other material presented as factual is the lack of corroboration or presentation of other viewpoints. But this is in the nature and tradition of propagandistic documentaries. Such films rarely tell "THE" truth; rather, they tell "A" truth, a particular slant on important matters, what filmmaker Werner Herzog has called "ecstatic truth," or essential truth.
Greenwald has taken a grass-roots approach to distributing this film. Rather than seek out conventional big screens, he arranged for an Internet approach to recruitment of individuals and groups to host DVD screenings in a huge variety of settings, all in the same week. Churches, NGOs, university campus venues, some theaters, you name it. My wife and I saw the film at a private home in our area along with 10 other people, all arranged via the film's website.
As long as consumers think only of their own bottom line buying everything they want at the absolute lowest price every time, never connecting the dots between low price, lousy service, substandard employment conditions, financial drains on the public sector, and the loss of fondly recalled small businesses - Wal-Mart will continue to eat away at our culture, parasitically suck away on our national nutrient resources, all the while building up its corporate treasures into a war chest to combat any and all challenges to its destructive excesses. There's no end in sight. My rating: 7.5/10 (low B+). (Seen on 11/18/05). If you'd like to read more of my reviews, send me a message for directions to my websites.
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