When Hurricane Katrina ravaged America's Gulf Coast, it laid bare an uncomfortable reality-America is not only far from the world's wealthiest nation; it is crumbling beneath a staggering ...
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When Hurricane Katrina ravaged America's Gulf Coast, it laid bare an uncomfortable reality-America is not only far from the world's wealthiest nation; it is crumbling beneath a staggering burden of individual and government debt. Maxed Out takes us on a journey deep inside the American debt-style, where everything seems okay as long as the minimum monthly payment arrives on time. Sure, most of us may have that sinking feeling that something isn't quite right, but we're told not to worry. After all, there's always more credit! Maxed Out shows how the modern financial industry really works, explains the true definition of "preferred customer" and tells us why the poor are getting poorer and the rich getting richer. By turns hilarious and profoundly disturbing, Maxed Out paints a picture of a national nightmare which is all too real for most of us.Written by
Have you seen the new card that they're talking about putting out now-where you can get a credit card against your pension account, so that, when you go and charge it, it automatically, if you don't pay, will be withdrawn from the money you've put aside for your retirement? This is one more way that we're trying to string together with chewing gum and bailing wire to keep the American family looking like it's afloat long after it is really sunk with debt.
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It's a well known fact that Americans are among the most consumer-oriented and debt-ridden people on the planet. It's perhaps less well known that banks and credit card companies actually make their largest profits by extending mass amounts of credit to the very people who can least afford to be in debt. By finally exposing this ironic truth to the light of day, the documentary "Maxed Out" aims to hold the powers-that-be accountable for their actions.
James D. Scurlock, the writer and director of the film, brings us one heartbreaking story after another about ordinary average citizens who have fallen victim to this consumer-credit nightmare. Some are struggling working-class folk who were scammed by debt-consolidation lenders into believing that they would be paying lower interest rates and payments on their loans, only to discover that their new rates and payments were, in reality, astronomically higher. Others are 18 year-old college students, who, it turns out, are prime targets for credit card companies who see these "bad risks" as gold stars in their corporate profit ledgers. Lending institutions also go after people who have previously filed for bankruptcy, knowing that such individuals are not only spending-prone by nature but legally unable to file for bankruptcy a second time. Scurlock also interviews debt-collectors who seem all but indifferent to the plight of those they are going after, as well as more humanistic economists who understand completely the depth of the problem.
Perhaps the most damning criticism is leveled at politicians like George W. Bush and the members of Congress who passed the ironically named Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, making it much harder for the average American to escape his consumer debt burden and much easier for irresponsible creditors to hound their debtors sometimes literally to death, a point Scurlock brings home when he interviews people whose loved ones have committed suicide as a result of their financial and debt-related woes. Yet, ironically, the film also shows the flippant attitude government officials seem to adopt regarding the nation's own debt situation as trillions of dollars of red ink spill unimpeded across the nation's treasury.
In terms of style, "Maxed Out" lacks the pizazz and showmanship of a Michael Moore expose, but Scurlock's single-minded passion still shines through loud and clear. This is a fairly straightforward talking-heads documentary that cuts to the heart of the problem with compassion and precision. The director does provide some much needed levity, though, by showing us snippets of a very funny standup comedy routine on the subject by Louis C. K., as well as excerpts from a typically cheesy 1960 instructional short entitled "The Wise Use of Credit" (the DVD contains the full ten-minute version of the film in the "Extra Features" section).
"Maxed Out" is another in a long line of documentaries seemingly designed to make one feel insignificant and powerless in the face of hugely impersonal corporate forces. Yet, if knowledge itself is power, then movies like "Sicko," "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," "Maxed Out" etc. may, in their own small way, help lead to much-needed reform and change in the way the government and Big Business deal with the least of us in society. Let us hope that is the case.
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