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Collapse, a documentary from Chris Smith, is about an American named Michael Ruppert.

4 out of 4 stars



  • Directed by Chris Smith
  • Featuring Michael Ruppert
  • Classification: NA

Former L.A. narcotics detective turned whistle-blower turned radical critical thinker Michael Ruppert is probably not the kind of guy you would want to meet face-to-face in the basement of an abandoned meat-packing plant in Los Angeles. But that's just where we encounter him in Collapse, an urgent and riveting new documentary from Chris Smith, one of America's most intuitive and gifted young filmmakers.

Some would label Ruppert a conspiracy theorist. In Collapse, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this fall, he asserts that he deals in "conspiracy fact." Whether you agree, disagree or fence-sit, there is no denying it: His notions about the impact of declining oil reserves and looming global catastrophe do not sound like ideas from the fringe, as they may have several years ago.

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For well over two decades, Ruppert has proved himself a meticulous researcher. His work is widely consumed by government insiders and academics, as well as by conspiracy theorists. Drawing from newspaper inside pages, academic journals and unclassified documents, he has exposed various forms of government corruption as a freelance investigative journalist, lecturer, and, since 1993, publisher of his print and Web-based newsletter, From the Wilderness.

In Collapse, Ruppert connects the dots between peak oil, essential human services, alternate energy sources, agricultural production, governments, money interests and strategies for survival. All power points from his recent book, A Presidential Energy Policy, Ruppert delivers them in a plain-spoken vocabulary peppered with imaginative analogies. But this is not merely an activist doc intended to support Ruppert's treatise. Smith gives us something much more: a subtle portrait of a man whose sense of duty has affected his personal life.

Smith's previous docs ( American Movie, Home Movie, The Yes Men) and features ( American Job, The Pool) present their offbeat, outsider characters in the context of their work or lives. With Collapse, Smith changes his style, delivering a cinematic first-person talking-head film.

This kind of documentary needs a perfect storm of elements to engage the viewer. Collapse has it: intriguing subject matter; an articulate, enigmatic speaker prone to fascinating asides; and a stylistic approach that frames him in a unique way. Smith says he chose the basement location to convey the milieu of an interrogation. But it also looks like a space one might run into to escape apocalypse above ground, as portrayed in such end-of-world films as The Road, which opens next week.

Smith also breaks the fourth wall by including a few confrontational off-camera questions, and by showing Ruppert pausing, puffing a cigarette, and petting his beloved dog. Archival and film effects are used sparingly but effectively, not to illustrate Ruppert's "monologue" but to simulate the barrage of information he distills.

From popcorn chompers such as 2012 to more cerebral fare like The Road, movie audiences are being offered multiple visions of the apocalypse these days. Collapse is hands-down the most chilling.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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