Capital in the 21st Century (4 stars)

Capital in the 21st Century

Thomas Piketty's seminal book is adapted for the screen with persuasive results

Based on the landmark 2013 book by French economist Thomas Piketty and featuring numerous contributions from the man himself, this accessible documentary asks us to open our eyes to the widening, odious inequality sweeping the globe. As the rich get unstoppably richer, the prospects of the rest have begun to evaporate, with social mobility and the very notion of the middle classes disappearing.

Assembling an impressive array of experts to talk us through what the hell happened, in broad agreement with Piketty's text, Kiwi director Justin Pemberton (who adapts the book with Piketty and Matthew Metcalfe) has created a lively and persuasive film. Given its trim feature-length, its arguments are necessarily abbreviated but there's enough food for thought and insight to engage. Energetically edited and visually varied, the film uses movie clips and archive footage to illustrate our march towards progress and the way it got wound right back.

Warning that we are returning to levels of inequality not seen since the 18th and 19th centuries and a system based on inherited wealth, Piketty and co (including historian Kate Williams, political scientist Francis Fukuyama and journalist Paul Mason) identify seismic shifts from the past century or so – including the drive for social change in the aftermath of the World Wars – exposing the way globalisation has been exploited to death by the mega rich, damaging the quality of life of near everyone else.

They join the dots to explain the rise of nationalism, expose the fraud of trickle-down economics, highlight the riskiness of widespread self-employment and the appalling abuses of the property market. There's an interesting Monopoly experiment which illustrates the pernicious social effect of wealth, showing that even perceived financial superiority changes behaviour for the worse; in people's minds better-off equals better.

If an in-depth examination might have been more satisfying, the film makes its points clearly and concisely. Whether the fallout from Covid-19 will bring the push for reforms and equality that are so desperately needed remains to be seen but, in the meantime, it's important to be reminded just what is at stake.

Available to watch in cinemas from Fri 25 Sep.

Capital in the 21st Century

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • 1h 43min
  • 12
  • Directed by: Justin Pemberton
  • Cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Kate Williams, Thomas Piketty

Adaptation of the 2013 book by French economist Thomas Piketty that looks at wealth and power, shining a light on the growing inequalities in the world.

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