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Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00
Local opening date: 4/13/2007
Reviewed by Martha Baker
James D. Scurlock wrote a book called Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit, and the era of Predatory Lenders, and then he filmed a documentary on the same subjects. I haven't read the book, but I can say unequivocally that, at the very least, everyone, EVERYONE, over the age of 5 should see the film.

The reason? If you didn't do your homework, if you didn't read the fine print, if you didn't take your usual jaded self to the bargaining table, you probably don't know you're being bilked, cheated, lied to and robbed until you're sitting on the sidewalk with your Franklin Mint plates on the curb after you've lost your house.

Maxed Out begins with the voice of a Nevada real estate agent driving her car into the gated community of Seven Hills and commenting on the Italian theme that dominates the development. It includes the stand-up comedy act of Louie C.K. in the persona of a working man caught in the testicle-gripping banking trends of the modern economy, and the stand-up performance of Suze Ortmann, whose ties to the very products she's pushing are cited in the printed matter Scurlock runs under her famous face.

Scurlock includes, as well, an economist stating that the loan-to-value accounting technique is the same one used by Enron. And then there's the shuffle and duck of Julie Williams, the comptroller of the currency for the US government. There are black people about to lose their houses in the South; there are 2 white women whose children got so many offers of credit cards in college that they sunk in debt and killed themselves. There are television money consultants barking away and banks of telephone bill collectors, who tease among themselves between threats to so-called "customers." 

Scurlock's point in all of this, one he makes in his book, too, is that "Twenty-first century banking is as much about building relationships as Wal-Mart is about building communities."  And if you haven't seen Robert Greenwald's documentary, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, you may not get the irony of Scurlock's declaration. Banks, today, Scurlock says are in the business of giving everyone credit and then flipping that credit into debt. Thus, banks are pushers, errr, "sales centers,"  for credit cards, credit insurance, car loans, and second mortgages. Their fees, which cost them nothing, are ridiculous, but no one's laughing. For example, fees for returned checks and late payments have increased 200 percent in the last decade.

Scurlock's excellent documentary does for the credit-card and banking industries what recent documentaries have done for the electric car, global warming, and the situation in Iraq. If you don't leave the theater outraged, you weren't really watching.

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