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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The movie suggests that if you ask different questions, you'll get surprising answers. And if you want people to change behavior, figure out what they really want to give them the right incentive.
Positive Role Models
Some teens are bribed with $50 a month to raise their grades; the monetary incentive (plus a ride in a limo) proves motivating.
Violence & Scariness
Disturbing, graphic photos of a man bleeding heavily from his head and, later, of his corpse; discussion of the might of the Japanese yakuza.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A stripper scene shows half-naked women with their breasts covered by computer-generated images. Vague references to a girl named Temptress who isn't choosy.
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A few uses of "s--t." A piece of paper is shown with "f--k" written on it.
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Products & Purchases
The film promotes the best-selling book of the same title.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Some discussions about the crack epidemic of the 1980s as vials of crack are shown on screen.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this engaging documentary based on the same-named book tries to explain some complicated and unorthodox economic theories by examining unusual questions ... and consequently arriving at unexpected conclusions (such as linking a drop in the crime rate to the legalization of abortion 20 years earlier). Although most of the content isn't too strong -- there's some language (including "s--t") and a handful of scenes that feature violence or near-nudity -- younger viewers might find the whole thing too hard to grasp. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
As good as such wonky material can get, Freakonomics is an admirable attempt at discourse, relying not just on the printed page but also visuals. In many ways, it succeeds: The four main segments are weighty, interesting, and, yes, sometimes controversial, including Levitt's theory that legalized abortion led to decreased incidents of violent crime 20 years later. And some insights are meaty: Reading parenting books won't help you raise a child who's better and cooler; causation isn't correlation; the sport of sumo is artful, yes, but quite possibly troubled; social and moral incentives matter.
Nevertheless, Freakonomics lacks cohesion, which may not be all that surprising given how it stitches disparate "episodes" fashioned by different directors sourced from a book written by two authors. Having a handful of directors with different storytelling techniques makes the movie feel disjointed; of all of them, Gibney's sumo expose is most lyrical and Jarecki's most surprising. It feels like five episodes from a TV series that we'd love to follow. Flaws aside, it's worth watching, if only to give your brain an entertaining workout.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.