Radiant City (2007) Review

Radiant City (2007) Review
Radiant City (2007) Review 1
Radiant City (2007)
Director(s): Michael Katleman
Actor(s): Dominic Purcell, Orlando Jones, Brooke Langton
Running Time: 93 min
| January 12, 2007

It’s hard to live anywhere in Canada without feeling the push of urban sprawl. I live in southern Ontarion and you can’t travel the highways and by-ways in this part of the province without seeing a countryside pockmarked by ugly as sin strip malls and cookie-cutter sub-developments that look like the same four houses were built over and over again. The topic is as appropriate for documentary investigation as any other and so a new film from the National Film Board of Canada does. But while Radiant City seeks to make some important points about the way we live, I do have some reservations about the manner in which it is done.

The movie follows the lives of the Moss family and their lives in an typical suburban development known as Evergreen. Dad Evan gets to spend about two hours a day sitting in traffic (to what amounts to an average of 55, eight hour work days per year according to statistics in the film). Mom Ann loves her new, custom home but feels that she’s being vilified by her family as the one that insisted on their move to the bland and uninteresting Evergreen. Their kids Kyle and Tina are trying to make the best of it with Kyle just wanting to hang out and his sister scheduled to within an inch of her life with all her various activities.

But the thing about the Mosses, and this is kind of a spoiler so stop reading if you don’t want to know but personally I think that it will keep things in perspective, is that the Mosses are fictional. They are local actors who actually do live in nearby homes, but the family unit as presented does not exist. So they are actors, but they are not actors; whether that decision is genius or folly I don’t know but I bet Michael Moore wishes that he had thought of it first. One thing I do think, which is why I decide to proceed with printing this reveal, is that when it is revealed that Mosses were really not the “Mosses” I did feel a little cheated. Oddly I remembered thinking earlier in the film that kids seemed really sharp as if they were scripted, so I guess I wasn’t that far behind the curve.

This decision can be regarded as equal parts genius and disingenuous, my fear though is that very real problems with modern development and the issues examined by expert architects, philosophers and urban designers will be negated by the slight of hand. On the other hand, could filmmakers Jim Brown and Gary Burns have found a real family that could have illustrated their points so potently? Probably not, but maybe by the time you learn the truth the film’s message has set itself in enough that the fact that the family isn’t real doesn’t matter. Plus Brown and Burns are smart enough not to leave you hanging and lets us meet the family as they are after their roles have been revealed.

Still, Radiant City is compelling for the issues it raises and the implicit warning in the notion of building bigger homes in places that require you to drive further to get things when we are looking at possible energy shortages in the not to distant future. On an aesthetic level, the filmmakers drive home pervasive shot-sightedness and ugliness of modern suburbia with several aerial shots. Even though I don’t think that Brown and Burns presented their arguments in quite the right way, I am no less determined that what they are trying to say with this movie is important and should be listened to.

Final Thoughts

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