MICHAEL Winterbottom is one of the cinema’s most intriguing directors.
The Brit doesn’t confine himself to any genre or style. He can jump — though not always effortlessly — from contemporary drama ( Go Now) to period drama ( Jude) to period spoof ( Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story) to comedy ( The Trip) to dramatised documentary ( 24 Hour Party People) and more.
He delivers a film every year and his highturnover, high-risk approach presents many surprises. One must admire his ability to turn a creative restlessness into such a constant stream of movies, but it comes with a caveat. The occasional film emerges as little more than the under-developed idea he began with.
The Shock Doctrine (M, Hopscotch, 78min, $29.95) is a case in point. It is a hastily assembled adaptation of Naomi Klein’s bestselling book of the same name that explores an alternative history in which economic or political shocks become potent instruments of change, and may even be manipulated to be so by governments.
The film is an extension, of sorts, of Winterbottom’s far more convincing 2006 film (also co-directed with Mat Whitecross), The Road to Guantanamo (the three Brits featured in that film also appear towards the tail of this one).
The Shock Doctrine careens through a prosecution of an array of contemporary shock therapies, sheeting them all home to economist Milton Friedman’s powerful push for free-market capitalism. It’s a didactic film, and this isn’t the forum to debate the legitimacy of Klein’s theory.
Of course, reviews have been polarised between those of liberal-leaning viewers who agree wholeheartedly with Klein and those who can appreciate the film’s shortcomings.
And they are obvious. It is busy but unfocused. It comes across as an undergraduate thesis, barrelling from one blinding light of inspiration to another with little thematic structure. Winterbottom’s great strength as a director is he is his own man. Unfortunately, on The Shock Doctrine, he could have done with a tutor overseeing and straightening up his work.