The following is a review of the documentary The Cartel by New York Times critic Jeannette Catsoulis published on April 16, 2010. To be fair, not all the reviews have been negative. You can view some of the more positive reviews by clicking on the movie's website HERE. Mr. Bowdon is a Hoboken resident and was trained as a mechanical engineer before moving into news and entertainment. Clearly anti-union, anti-tenure, and pro-deregulation, the film and the message has a somewhat skewed perspective but has resonated with many New Jersey residents (including Governor Christie). -Dr. Petrosino
A mind-numbing barrage of random television clips and trash-talking heads, “The Cartel” purports to be a documentary about the American public school system. In reality, however, it’s a bludgeoning rant against a single state — New Jersey — which it presents as a closed loop of Mercedes-owning administrators, obstructive teachers’ unions and corrupt school boards.
Blithely extrapolating nationally, the writer and director, Bob Bowdon, concludes that increased financing for public schools is unlikely to raise reading scores but is almost certain to raise the luxury-car quotient in administrator parking lots. To illustrate, Mr. Bowdon rattles off a laundry list of outrages — like a missing $1 billion from a school construction budget — and provides a clumsy montage of newspaper headlines detailing administrative graft.
The evidence may be verifiable (and even depressingly familiar), but its complex underpinnings are given short shrift. Instead Mr. Bowdon, a New Jersey-based television reporter, employs an exposé-style narration lousy with ad hominems and emotional coercion. In one particularly egregious scene he parks his camera in front of a weeping child who has just failed to win a coveted spot in a charter-school lottery — another tiny victim of public school hell. Later, confronted with the president of the New Jersey Education Association, Mr. Bowdon performs the rhetorical equivalent of poking a lion with a stick and running away.
Visually horrid and intellectually unsatisfying, “The Cartel” demonstrates only that its maker has even more to learn about assembling a film than about constructing an argument.
Written and directed by Bob Bowdon; edited by Morgan Beatty, David Wittlin, Sam Wolfson and Vinnie Randazzo; music by Mr. Bowdon; produced by Mr. Bowdon and Rob Pfaltzgraff; released by Truly Indie. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. This film is not rated.