King Corn is a documentary with a great hook; childhood friends, now college grads, Ian Cheney & Curtis Ellis are troubled by the way corn has infiltrated the food industry so they decide to head to Iowa and grow their own acre of corn, following the process from planting to reaping to selling to manufacturing, etc. It’s a really fabulous documentary, much better than these kind of small indie “protest” docs usually are. Cheney & Ellis are likable and affable on screen and the film gets some mileage out of the simple “fish out of water” scenario. But the film has its environmental points to make about modern agriculture and the food industry as well and it’s very adept at making them without coming across as preachy and pretentious. There are a number of really great scenes; maybe the best is also the simplest, of Cheney & Ellis sampling corn from their field and discovering the uncomfortable truth that modern agriculture has rendered most crops absolutely inedible straight from the field. The film has a wonderful climax as the two guys get to actually interview Earl Butz, the Secretary of Agriculture under Nixon & Ford and the father of the modern mega-farming model of agriculture. The film pulled a great trick on me at the end as well. There was a great scene that faded to black and I thought “Perfect ending!” And then the next scene started and I thought, “Well, that should have been the ending.” And then the actual ending was even better. The final shot of the film is a thought-provoking one, one that can be read as either a grim commentary on the huge fight ahead for the opponents of big corn or as an inspirational moment of the sweetness of personal protest. It’s a moment that succeeds as a statement, but it also brings home that over the course of this film, we’ve gotten to watch Cheney & Ellis take a kind of journey themselves and this feels like the perfect ending for their “characters” as well, a moment of personal change amidst the big picture ethics of the film. Anyway, I really didn’t expect much from this film, but it’s really absolutely brilliant, thought-provoking, entertaining, funny, disturbing, everything it needs to be. 4 stars.
tl;dr – documentary follows two city boys raising an acre of corn in order to explore the modern agricultural economy; surprisingly, brilliant, entertaining and thought-provoking. 4 stars.