Released at a time when the Occupy Wall Street movement is forcing a substantial discussion about the pros and cons of a free-market economy, Revenge of the Electric Car couldn’t seem more topical. Director Chris Paine’s sequel to Who Killed the Electric Car? does a remarkable job of arguing that capitalism can be both a conduit for creative thinking and an albatross that squelches new ideas that threaten the status quo. The movie will make you feel alternately optimistic and cynical, but you’ll be consistently entertained.
The film profiles three business titans who believe they have the perfect plan and design to bring an affordable electric car to the American people. There’s Bob Lutz, a bigwig at Chevy, who believes his hybrid gas-and-electric-powered vehicle, the Volt, can transform the marketplace. He’s a blustery guy, a born salesman who is forced to take a marked decrease of his job’s perks in stride -- he acknowledges that a business lunch over sandwiches has replaced the company’s previously more-impressive cuisine.
Then there’s entrepreneur Elon Musk, whose attempts to start Tesla Motors -- a company that will rival Detroit with a custom-made electric car – are full of grand ideas, but short on practical success. An expert invokes the troubled history of automobile designer Preston Tucker when discussing Musk’s possibly quixotic dream.
The third financial powerhouse in the game is Carlos Ghosn, the highly competitive head of Nissan, whose company has built a completely electric automobile called the Leaf. These three men are all trying to corner the market on greener vehicles, since the research not only shows that lowering a car’s carbon footprint makes good ecological sense, but that consumers are ready for this transition.
For the first half of the movie, their zeal and confidence are infectious. There’s a celebratory feeling as these men plow forward, backed by their own scientific and financial research, that they are on the verge of revolutionizing the car industry. But when the 2008 recession hits, that feeling is wiped away. As we see these men strain under the weight of financial austerity, we wonder if there’s really a chance for these cars of the future to become a part of the present.
The great accomplishment of Paine’s movie is that it makes us care about what happens to these three men, even if we don’t necessarily like them. We are invested in the outcome not just because of the ecological benefits of greener vehicles, or because we dream of making a killing in the business world, but because they are so focused and driven that any one of them could be the subject of a great documentary.
There’s also a fourth figure in the film, Greg "Gadget" Abbott, a private citizen and inventor who sinks all of his available finances, including borrowed money, into perfecting similar technology all by himself. He’s the most-likable person in the movie, because he proves that anybody can make a difference; while companies have the power to mass-produce, actual innovation can always come from a single individual.
Revenge of the Electric Car is an engrossing, entertaining, and cautiously hopeful movie, the kind of documentary that deserves to break through to a wider audience -- if for no other reason than because the more people who see it, the more likely it is that some wildly creative entrepreneur will try to make his or her dreams a reality.
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- Released: 2011
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Released at a time when the Occupy Wall Street movement is forcing a substantial discussion about the pros and cons of a free-market economy, Revenge of the Electric Car couldn’t seem more topical. Director Chris Paine’s sequel to Who Killed the Electric C… (more)