Love him or hate him, there’s no ignoring Russell Brand. The louche, shaggy-haired, former druggie/current author/actor/raconteur made his first impression with the American public as the fabulously named Aldous Snow in Nicholas Stoller’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” A slew of film roles followed, some promising, others less so (“Arthur,” anyone?). In the last couple of years, however, Brand has consciously moved away from the bad-boy image that defined his early career trajectory, moving towards a very public sort of political activism.
In 2013, for instance, Brand encouraged British citizens to not vote and called for a “massive re-distribution of wealth,” although he was a bit hazy on exactly what that meant. He published a book titled “Revolution,” and now Brand, ever the firestarter, has teamed up with director Michael Winterbottom (“24 Hour Party People,” “The Trip”) for “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” an incendiary comic documentary that looks to shed a light on the massive economic divide that exists in London, one of the world’s most expensive cities.
On the basis of the first clip, it appears Brand is sticking to a template that’s worked for folks like Michael Moore — the notion that the doc can, and should, drive its points home with humor rather than endless pontification. It also appears that Mr. Brand may have adopted some of the left-wing provocateur’s more confrontational tactics in getting his point across. The trailer sees him hopping over an office desk at a corporate building, accusing a receptionist of “financial skullduggery,” and surprising a London banker at his house. Brand’s been railing against the tyranny of the global corporate mentality for a couple of years now, and it’s certainly admirable that a guy with his prestige and profile would be so vocal about important causes. But there’s also an unshakeable sense of self-promotion about the trailer, with Brand speaking directly to the camera and clearly setting some poor saps up for on-camera prankery just so he can make his points. Will “The Emperor’s New Clothes” be a “Roger & Me” for the recession era? It remains to be seen, but here’s a snippet of the official logline from Tribeca’s website:
Brand spotlights not only how the crisis affected the working class around the world, but also how the uber-wealthy benefited from the downturn. With Winterbottom providing his signature ingenuity and pinpoint directorial control, they generate a riveting, boisterous, and, at times, cathartic riff on the extreme disparities between the haves and have nots in contemporary society.
What do you think? With the U.K. elections right around the corner, is Brand trying to make a difference? Or is he in it for the press? “The Emperor’s New Clothes” screens at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 24th.