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Ralph Nader can be divided into two eras. Early Nader is a scourge to reckless industry and hero to the people, the guy who first brought us seat belts and air bags, and a grocery list of essential public safety acts in between.
Late Nader, which now tends to obscure everything else, is to many people the guy who unwittingly helped George W. Bush defeat the Democrats in 2000 by running as the candidate for the Green Party.
"An Unreasonable Man" attempts to debunk this notion of a split activist personality, quoting George Bernard Shaw's assertion that an unreasonable man is the only kind who can instigate change. One of the most eye-opening social criticism docs since "Bowling for Columbine," the film tries to get beyond the debate over 2000 and examine the evidence alongside the historical record.
Many of Nader's former closest allies blame him for Al Gore's defeat, but we learn the numbers don't support this accusation. "Unreasonable" also shows the activism that led up to Nader's controversial run, demonstrating it as part of a career-long strategy of overcoming the "fix" inherent in a two-party system aligned with big business. In this view he was speaking for the people, not the Dems.
"An Unreasonable Man" is fascinating as a history of Nader's fight, though there are a couple of missing pieces, like direct testimony from bigger names in politics and media as well as the question of why Nader and the Green Party split in '04 (Was he a curious notion too successful?). Do Gore and Bush's people, for instance, also believe Nader upset their presidential contest? Of course this latter question plays into the hands of power, and demonstrates Nader's point: The big guys, including news media, want to see it as their game alone; a third party spoils their neat, easy arrangement.
"An Unreasonable Man" explores this arrangement, going far beyond the man into the heart of a darkness he's tried for decades to penetrate. Unlike many other recent activist documentaries, it also sheds light on what everyday people can do to change things. (NR) Click here for more Arts & Culture