Big Men

Documentary: Big Men (2013). Written and directed by Rachel Boynton, this documentary follows a small group of American explorers, led by CEO Jim Musselman, of Dallas-based oil company Kosmos Energy. The two quotes that open the film immediately inform the viewer what will follow.

“Tell me, is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? … What is greed? Of course, none of us are greedy, it’s only the other fellow who’s greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests.”

~ Milton Friedman, the most influential economist of the latter half of the 20th century

“As long as there’s no find, the noble brotherhood will last. But when the piles of god begin to grow … that’s when the trouble starts.”

~ Howard, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre [1948]

With independent access, Big Men’s two-person crew filmed inside the oil company as Kosmos and its partners discovered and developed the first commercial oil field in Ghana’s history. Christened the Jubilee Field, this deposit had the potential to return a staggering $22 billion to investors.

Big Men

The unprecedented access provides viewers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what happens when business and politics mix during a clash of cultures.

Interestingly, as Boynton tells the story of new oil in Ghana, she also tells the story of Nigeria, and its old oil, through conversations with locals and politicians. As you might guess, Nigeria’s experience has not gone well. Long after oil was discovered in that country the average citizen is no better off. Unfortunately, the country is a poster child for the resource curse.

Along with Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Rooma film I first watched in an ethics class while pursuing my MBA, this documentary shines a bright light on the ugly side of capitalism and  provides a stark reminder of why avarice is one of the seven deadly sins.

Big Men is available for streaming on Netflix and other services. Check out the film’s website for more information. By the way, if you’ve never seen The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, find a version and check it out, particularly if you are a fan of classic movies. There was a period during the mid-90s when I started viewing all the Humphrey Bogart movies I could get my hands on and this movie, along with The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, is among my favorites.

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.

6 Comments

  1. Had no idea that both Enron and this movie were on Netflix; will definitely be checking them out. Do you have any other suggestions on Netflix? So hard to keep track of the hundreds of documentaries/videos they have!

    • Thanks for stopping by, my friend. Here are some of the movies/documentaries, related in some way to personal finance/economics and available via streaming, that I have recommended …

      Looking For Change (YouTube) – Sponsored by American Express and narrated by Tyler Perry, this short (39 minutes) documentary is a film about everyday Americans shut out of the finance system most of us take for granted. Many of these Americans turn to pawn shops, check cashing services, and use payday and title loans to meet basic financial needs. Definitely check out this one. Very informative!

      Two American Families (PBS) – This series follows two American families over a 21-year period, documenting their struggles in a changing American economy. While I highly recommend that viewers take the time to watch each individual segment, the final segment in the series, Two American Families, does provide a recap of events from the first three segments in the series.

      99 Homes (Amazon) – A timely thriller about a single father who is evicted from his home and his only chance to win it back is to go to work for the charismatic and ruthless businessman who evicted him in the first place.

      San Francisco 2.0 (HBO Go) – This documentary looks at how the technology boom – and the resultant extraordinary incomes – has impacted this historically progressive city, talking to various industry representatives, politicians and longtime residents hoping to maintain their place and not be left behind.

      We the Economy (Netflix) – In this documentary series, Paul G. Allen – the Microsoft co-founder – and Morgan Spurlock – of Super Size Me fame, have partnered through their production entities, Vulcan Productions and Cinelan respectively, to produce 20 short films. Each film focuses on a specific aspect of the economy and at 5 – 10 minutes each, they are easily digested.

      We All Fall Down: The American Mortgage Crisis (SnagFilms) – This informative documentary chronicles the history of America’s mortgage finance system, from its origins in the 1930s, when the federal government first made available long-term, fixed-rate loans to new American homeowners, to its current state of crisis, after an excess of risky mortgage financing led to the system’s collapse, which in turn triggered a wider economic recession.

      The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant (HBO Go) – The plant, which opened in 1981, and churned out an average of 280,000 small trucks and SUVs a year, closed two days before Christmas in 2008. As a result, 2,500 workers and 200 management staff were left without jobs. Moreover, the closing also triggers the loss of thousands of related jobs and businesses.

      Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life & Times of Katrina Gilbert (HBO Go) – Filmed over the course of one year in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the film Katrina Gilbert, a 30-year-old mother of three who works as a certified nursing assistant in an extended-care facility while striving to address her own health-care issues. Overworked, underpaid, uninsured and lacking support, she chooses daily between purchasing her own medication and paying for the needs of her three children, which often leaves her struggling to make ends meet.

      A Place at the Table (Netflix) – As noted on the film’s website, 50 Million Americans – 1 in 4 children – don’t know where their next meal is coming from. This documentary tells the powerful stories of three such Americans, who maintain their dignity even as they struggle just to eat. In a riveting journey that will change forever how you think about the hungry, A Place at the Table shows how the issue could be solved forever, once the American public decides – as they have in the past – that ending hunger is in the best interests of us all.

      Inequality for All (Amazon) – This documentary follows Robert Reich, a former U.S. Labor Secretary under President Bill Clinton, as he looks to raise awareness of the country’s widening economic gap. Mr. Reich notes that we are currently in the biggest economic slump since the Great Depression.

      In Debt We Trust (YouTube) – While a large number of Americans carry a certain amount of personal debt, very few are really aware of just how common and widespread the debt crisis has become. This documentary takes an in-depth look at the relationship Americans have with their credit cards and discusses how shopping, and rabid consumerism, has replaced the factory as America’s dominant economic engine.

      The Pursuit of Happyness (Amazon) – This biographical drama introduces us to Chris Gardner and his bout of homelessness. As Gardner struggles to make ends meet, he loses his wife, loses his house, and loses any financial security he might have had. Forced to live out in the streets with his son, he becomes desperate to find a job, any job.

      The Game (Amazon) – Directed by David Fincher, this thriller stars Michael Douglas as Nicholas Van Orton, a Scrooge-like San Francisco investment banker focused only on his money and advancing his business. On his 48th birthday – coincidentally the same the age at which his father committed suicide – his younger brother (Sean Penn) arrives to present him with an odd present, a gift certificate to play a game courtesy of CRS (Consumer Recreation Services).

      Detropia (Netflix) – With its vivid, painterly palette and haunting score, Detropia sculpts a dreamlike collage of a grand city teetering on the brink of dissolution. These soulful pragmatists and stalwart philosophers strive to make ends meet and make sense of it all, refusing to abandon hope or resistance. Their grit and pluck embody the spirit of the Motor City as it struggles to survive post-industrial America and begins to envision a radically different future.

      Money, Power and Wall Street (PBS) – Broken down into four parts, this four-hour FRONTLINE investigation tells the inside story of the origins of the 2008 financial meltdown and the battle to save the global economy. The films explore key decisions, missed opportunities, and the unprecedented moves by the government and banking leaders that have affected the fortunes of millions of people.

      Hard Times: Lost on Long Island (HBO Go) – The makers of this documentary note that while the Great Recession officially ended in the summer of 2009, for 25 million unemployed and underemployed Americans, the impacts are still being felt. Filmed primarily on Long Island – the birthplace of the post-WWII suburban American Dream – this short (54 minutes) HBO Film documents the challenges and frustrations facing several unemployed or under-employed people who are trying to land new jobs and make ends meet in the face of increasingly daunting odds.

  2. Agreed that since this is on Netflix I’ll totally be checking it out! Thanks for the recommendation!

    • I look forward to hearing your thoughts once you’ve had a chance to check it out.

  3. Good to know this is on Netflix! I’m going to have to check this one out. Thank you for the suggestion!

    • Definitely worth a view. Let me know what you think.

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