American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Michael Winterbottom is a gifted filmmaker and storyteller, but watching him try to be a rhetorician can be painful. His best works of humanist agitprop are "In This World" and "Road to Guantanamo," gripping dramas that humanize political problems, respectively the immigration crisis and torture, by showing the world through the eyes of disenfranchised people. In these films, Winterbottom's politics are felt rather than argued.
Unfortunately, "The Emperor's New Clothes," Winterbottom's new documentary about comedian-turned-populist-political-commentator Russell Brand's revolutionary shenanigans, is more like "The Shock Doctrine," Winterbottom's adaptation of Naomi Klein's tract on disaster economics. Both of Winterbottom's money-minded documentaries are essentially film-length arguments that also happen to appeal to our emotions. Worse still: because "The Emperor's New Clothes" is often beholden to the whims of Brand (star of "Get Him to the Greek," and that tedious "Arthur" remake nobody saw), it too often feels like "Button-Pushing Encounters with Russell Brand."
I didn't know much about Brand's political humor before seeing "The Emperor's New Clothes" beyond watching bits of his YouTube videos wherein he holds court like a hipster Socrates. But the image that Brand presents of himself in "The Emperor's New Clothes" is split between two modes: a counter-cultural man of the people who ribs the working class and presses the flesh, and a coy agitator who insists that the world's bankers be jailed for their crimes against the underclass.
I am not a billionaire. I am one of the oppressed little choir members that Brand is preaching to. I should be the audience for this film. But I did not buy Brand's two-pronged argument, because I did not find his whimsical argumentation to be intuitively ingenious. The comedian Eddie Izzard can pull off an improvised routine by sheer force of conviction, but Brand comes off as a performance artist, kissing babies in one scene and coming on like Robespierre in the next. You probably have to be an initiated member of Brand's cult to be on the same page as him.