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Overall Rating

Awesome: 6.67%
Worth A Look53.33%
Average: 40%
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Total Crap: 0%

4 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Maxed Out
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Scott Weinberg

"Cash: It's the only way to go."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: I've heard this flick called "the Super Size Me of credit card debt" by at least a half-dozen film festival attendees, and I suppose that's a fair enough assessment. It's certainly a smartly constructed and enjoyably informative piece of documentary filmmaking, but it also leaves out what I consider to be one crucial piece of the puzzle ... and it also gets just a bit too manipulative for a few minutes.

There's no denying that credit card debt is a huge and horrid problem here in the United States, and filmmaker James Scurlock is to be commended for trying to shed some light onto the issue. Taken as a straight cautionary tale (as in "never use credit cards, people!"), Maxed Out works quite well. The film brings you the ins & outs of credit card debt from all the appropriate angles: the card-givers, the card-users, the debt-accruers, the debt-collectors, etc.

But where's the section devoted to, y'know, personal responsibility? An alien from another planet could watch Maxed Out and walk away thinking that the banks and the credit card companies abduct people in dark allies and simply infect them with $87,000 in credit card debt. Then again, Maxed Out is a movie about what happens after a debt is established, so perhaps the "personal responsibility" angle is a topic for another film.

Another slight misstep lies late in the film. Scurlock decides, unwisely, to juxtapose a story of two grieving mothers with a story of two opportunistic debt collectors. By wedging these two sections together, the filmmaker seems to be painting with too broad a brush. The soapy sadness of one story vs. the cartoonish villainy of the other seems too on-the-nose, particularly for a doco that spends most of its time being pretty smart about things.

But there's a lot that Maxed Out gets right, from its indictment of the banks' "college kid" obsession, the ridiculously exorbitant interest rates, and the ways in which our government allows creditors to run rampant. Scurlock interviews everyone from bankers to collectors to some truly unlucky consumers who got screwed by the system through no fault of their own, all of whom contribute to a chorus that preaches the following message: "Folks, stop using your credit cards so damn much, because the problem's a whole lot bigger than you might think."

All in all, it's a solid "social issue" documentary that delivers its messages in clear, concise, and well-researched fashion. The few misgivings I have are not enough to spoil "Maxed Out," a movie that just might inspire you to snip some of those credit cards in half. And if a movie can do that, it's certainly good enough to earn my recommendation.

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originally posted: 03/20/06 11:11:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2006 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Deep Focus Film Festival For more in the 2007 Deep Focus Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/22/08 AnnieG If we actually had money handling courses in our schools, this film should be shown. 4 stars
3/06/08 Charles Tatum I wish everyone could pay off their cards, dump them, and put these people out of business 4 stars
10/15/06 William Goss Very informative and striking. Certain extreme examples, however, reek of dramatic effect. 4 stars
5/23/06 Larry Wetzel fantastic expose on hidden predators of those already struggling over money 5 stars
3/17/06 Rebecca Very scary and very good 4 stars
3/16/06 Eric Brown It rocks! Awesome!!! 10 stars on a scale to 5 5 stars
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  DVD: 05-Jun-2007



Directed by
  James Scurlock

Written by

  Chris Barrett
  Robin Leach
  Luke McCabe
  Liz Warren

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