Review: Maxed Out

Maxed Out is a moving and scathing indictment of those that enable and perhaps encourage fiscal irresponsibility, chiefly credit card companies, but also Republican politicians, and federal bureaucrats. Talking to a smattering of outside analysts, observers, and perhaps even “victims,” James Scurlock’s documentary is a fine piece of muckraking, perhaps a testament to the genres resurgence (though the film’s modest reception in March suggests otherwise).

Visa MastercardMaxed Out tells a number of wrenching stories. The most memorable are those that tread into debt-fueled death wishes. Scurlock turned up at least three deaths as a result of seemingly insurmountable debt burdens, and there are suggestions of others.

Further, we see a number of consumer advocates, analysts, and lawyers who point out the troublesome outcomes of the way lenders operate. I have to wonder, upon watching the film, what a field-day Scurlock could have had if he had waited until after our present economic troubles to complete the work. To my understanding, the present banking troubles are a direct outgrowth of high-risk (or subprime) loan practices. The result of debt-buying, which Scurlock shows in the film, seems to have had even graver and further reaching than he suggests.

Regardless, one could reasonably critique Scurlock’s film for a number of reasons. The most evident is the conspicuous absence of representatives of credit card companies. Whether this is due to his unwillingness to show them or their unwillingness to be shown is not made clear.

Further, the argument likely has been (or will be) made that the film should focus on the fact that these lenders aren’t making unfair loans in a vacuum, people are indeed signing onto them. The point Scurlock would make, and indeed tries to make, is that those taking loans with high interest rates and huge fees are under some stress (financial, health, or otherwise) when they accept such loans. Whether that is sufficient to sway a skeptic, I’m not going judge.

The truly salient points made by the film are more mundane. That the marketing that credit card companies use to convince college kids that they are credit worthy and above concern about debt should probably be reconsidered. That the Bankruptcy revisions of 2005 were drafted by credit card companies to ensure that they would have even greater protection and ability to collect on delinquent borrowers. That our national debt, just like personal debt, it a matter that should cause us a good measure of trepidation.

Overall, Maxed Out is a film that deserved to make a greater splash than it did. Though Scurlock film lacks some of the dramatic flair that attracts so much attention to Michael Moore, his film is perhaps more troubling and more relevant.

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One response to “Review: Maxed Out”

  1. I am glad to hear that the term “muckraker’ isn’t totally obsolete. Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” was required reading for me in high school, and gave me tremendous insight into ‘corporate’ maneuverings.
    I will look for Maxed Out.
    I learned a little tidbit about credit lingo not too long ago. I am relatively proud that I carry no debt, and I was told that card companies call me a “deadbeat” because they make no interest on me. Interesting flip-flop of terminology, eh?