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Merchants Of Doubt by Mark Adler (Review)

posted Feb 18, 2015, 3:56 PM by Kaya Savas

Merchants Of Doubt is a documentary from the makers of Food, Inc. that takes a look at the political world and the pundits for hire who are paid to cast doubt on important social issues in order for corporate gain. The film is important in this day and age of climate change, and how opinions against climate change fill the media. This is a very straight-forward documentary in terms of structure and approach. The score by Mark Adler does a wonderful job of being that curious voice in your head as you follow the documentary on its journey to uncover the truth. It adds certain elements that evoke thought of other film genres, but also stumbles on itself.

Off the bat, this is a very typical documentary score in that you have short tracks that are meant to come in when there is an opening for them to do so. One might be scared of a 45-min score with 30-tracks, but luckily what Adler is doing here works well enough that the music never shoots itself in the foot… too much. At times it can be too on the nose with its playfulness and cartoony bounce, but I saw it more as a score trying to do those things for a reason. The music almost comes across as a light-hearted mystery, there is this sense of curiousness, magic and that “nothing is what it seems” type feel. Other times it felt like a cartoony Sherlock Holmes or Scooby Doo episode. I think the goal there was to paint this as a little mystery, present the players, and then try to find out why things are how they are. And that does work since the documentary is looking at how ridiculous pundits for hire are. However, it becomes difficult if you try to follow the tone and feel of this score to be roped in as a viewer. The music never feels like the tone is what it should be. At times it’s curious, at times goofy and at times almost poking fun as to say "look how ridiculous this is". The mish-mash of tone is what keeps it from being too accessible as a score and therefore as a support for the documentary.

Merchants Of Doubt is a documentary that is trying to shine light on something that needs light to be shined on. People are so willing to accept political propaganda and never question credibility just because someone is on TV or testifying in a court of law. The score from Mark Adler does an adequate job of capturing that curiosity and ridiculousness of the situation, but unfortunately can’t nail down a tone that allows the audience to really be pulled in. You’re aware of the score and its presence, but it’s not doing too much in terms of emotional pull or narrative structure. Merchants Of Doubt is a very straight-forward documentary score.