Review: An Unreasonable Man

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In 1966, Ralph Nader caused quite a stir with the publication of Unsafe at Any Speed, a study which indicted the automobile industry for suppressing evidence of design defects in some of its vehicles, including the Chevy Corsair. By resorting to unscrupulous methods to discredit the resolute Arab-American attorney, General Motors turned him into a cult hero while only embarrassing itself.

But the Princeton and Harvard-educated Nader successfully sued GM for invasion of privacy, and parlayed that publicity into a remarkable career as a crusader for consumer rights. And his efforts inspired a whole generation of anti-establishment attorneys to embark on legal careers dedicated to the public interest. Known as Nader’s Raiders, these intrepid zealots would uncover governmental and corporate corruption wherever they could find it.

Had Ralph simply retired rather than enter the 2000 presidential race as a third-party candidate, he probably would have left behind a beloved legacy as a friend of the common man. Unfortunately, he left public life a much reviled social pariah, as many came to blame him for Gore’s narrow loss, since they see Nader as having siphoned off critical votes which would have provided a slim margin of victory for the Democratic candidate.

All of the above is the subject of An Unreasonable Man, a warts-and-all documentary directed by Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan. Fortunately, the film employs an even-handed approach, starting out adoring but ending up bitterly critical during this unflinching look at the rise and fall of one of the most influential figures of our times.

Besides archival film footage, this palatable production features reflections from many Nader friends and foes alike, including Pat Buchanan, Howard Zinn, Lawrence O’Donnell and Carl Mayer, to name a few. The picture is at its best when showing a young Nader testifying before Congress, unafraid to speak truth to power, knowing full well what was happening to rabble-rousers like him back in the days of the FBI’s Cointelpro program.

Excellent (3.5 stars). Unrated. Running time: 122 minutes. Studio: IFC First Take


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