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May 9, 2011 | by  | in Film |
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Freakonomics

Based on the bestselling book of the same name, Freakonomics is a look at “the hidden side of everything”. The book is comprised of economic articles written by economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen Dubner who apply economic theory to diverse social topics. These topics include cheating by sumo wrestlers, how a child’s name affects its life and the impact of abortion on crime. The overarching ideas are that “incentives matter” and that conventional wisdom should be questioned.

Perhaps this is why Freakonomics: The Movie was produced in such an unconventional way. Separate directors were hired for separate segments while interviews of the two writers provide the focal point. The highlight throughout is the presentation, which keeps the often dry subject matter from boring the audience. The two authors, who are the only constant of the film, have effortless chemistry on screen together.

The section on child names is the most light-hearted, providing a humorous look at naming trends and how your name affects your life. There’re a lot of laughs throughout this section, and cringes at the awful names parents have bestowed upon their unfortunate children. The section “It’s (not always) a wonderful life” argues controversially that the 1971 legalisation of abortion had a profound impact on crime rates in the 1990s. This is the stand out section, clever graphical imagery together with a succinct argument make it hard not to agree with Levitt’s thesis. However, not all sections are of the same quality, the section on sumo corruption in particular is long-winded and weakened by poor subtitles.

Freakonomics mostly captures what made the book such a runaway success: thought-provoking ideas that everyone can relate to and understand. Even though Freakonomics is an enjoyable watch, the question that must be asked is; what is the point? In essence, this is a Cliffnotes version of the book with a few bells and whistles tacked on. If you’ve already read the book, the film is mostly superfluous as there is very little new information. If you haven’t read the book but are intrigued by the concept, then you should just read the book instead. Conventional wisdom tells us that non-fiction books are difficult to adapt to the big screen and Freakonomics reinforces that notion.

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