D: Chris Hegedus, Jehane Noujaim

Unremarkable documentary feature of interest only because of its timely production and release. The film follows the fortunes of two high-school buddies, Kaleil Tuzman and Tom Herman, who set up an internet company and experience the highs and lows of the dot com explosion and implosion. There is nothing particularly exceptional about the company, a service provider designed to increase access to local government (allowing people to pay parking tickets on-line, etc.), and there is equally nothing exceptional about the company's story (rise and fall, hire and fire). There is really no reason why anyone would need or want to see this movie, had it not happened to have been made at a time when this particular field of commercial enterprise was undergoing collapse. This made people curious about how it all worked and why it did not survive in the long term. The film therefore becomes a sort of exemplar or case study which draws attention to itself as something of an historical footnote if anything at all.

On a deeper level, filmmakers Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim have used more familiar structuring patterns. This is a buddy movie which charts the initial enthusiasms, inevitable conflicts, tragic break-up, and redemptive reconciliation between two friends. Amid the various wranglings and details involved with setting up, financing, and organising the ill-fated company, we are treated to a portrait of how two well-meaning guys end up confronting each other over a corporate desk as their destinies separate and their differences become more pronounced. Early on it is obvious that Tom is more gentle and family-oriented. Initial scenes of him combing his little girl's hair establish him firmly in the domestic space, and his relatively passive role as the technical co-ordinator behind the scenes for the company mark him out in contrast with Kaleil. Kaleil meanwhile is clearly a direct descendant of the 1980s yuppie. His gung-ho attitude and materialist pragmatism are visible almost immediately. As the company begins to gain momentum, he is seen interviewed on network television and seated in conference with President Clinton. His personal life, in contrast, is shown to be less successful, with an unhappy romance which breaks up over the implications of a long-term future which attests to his devotion to the job above all else (except possibly his mother).

As a dramatic trajectory, this is not all bad. It certainly provides narrative organisation and human interest. It is also simply more interesting than the humdrum details of corporate finance and unfathomable (and unexplained) web design issues which make up the bulk of the rest of it. Though the company eventually goes down in flames, the only real drama is in seeing these two personalities emerge and develop, a storytelling conceit long known to documentarists to be as useful to them as to their counterparts in fiction.

The problem is that once again there is nothing really all that remarkable about this. Neither personality is so exceptionally dynamic that you are drawn into their story with any real emotion. Neither is particularly useful as an indicator of contemporary American masculinity, as nothing that happens is really surprising. It is not that documentaries are meant to constantly throw up twists and insights, but many of them at least find an angle which enlivens the subject matter and then creates a context which draws out some of the material found in a way which illustrates themes about our world using 'real' footage. This one just has nothing new to say.

The footage itself is also a factor in the film's blandness. Shaky, hand-held min-cam action may once have suggested excitement and intimacy, but now it has become an exploitation TV cliché. There is really no valid reason why the film has been shot as it has other than it was probably cheap and convenient to do so. The tired cinéma-vérité style appears here in its modern form, a more direct to camera, semi-confessional approach which incorporates the participants on-camera reflections on the action being filmed, of interest only if the events and the reflections are of actual interest. They are not. Add to this the general feeling of nausea evoked by the unsteady camera (which one presumes it still thought to indicate 'more real' than a steady one) and you begin to wonder why you need to bother with it. My advice: don't.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2001.