Arrogance clings to Ralph Nader, who, in a healthy dollop of abuse, is called “worse than naive” and “bordering on the wicked” in this doc’s first five minutes by a parade of incensed Dems. The beauty of this thorough profile—which reclaims a remarkably consistent public servant—is that by film’s end, only Nader’s attackers seem arrogant: How could they assume his voters, inspired by real ideas, would have backed six years of hollow, weak-kneed resistance instead?
Structured chronologically and somehwat dryly, An Unreasonable Man makes a strong, nonhagiographic case for Nader’s impact: maturing under the influence of a verbal immigrant father (Nader’s sister: “We had opinions because we had to”); taking on GM’s “psychosexual dreamboats” in the late ’60s for unsafe features (and successfully suing the company for personal damages when they tried to sic hookers on him); advocating for food labels and assembling his “Nader’s Raiders”; cruising into the Carter administration with various successes and defeats. The footage collected is terrific, including some supremely awkward hosting of SNL.
After such workaholic crusading (as probed by the filmmakers, Nader seems totally devoid of a romantic life), it’s almost impossible to imagine the anticorporate scourge bowing to “spoiler” pressure. And, of course, he didn’t. “Angry and sad” is how one former Nader Raider describes his ambivalence toward the presidential bids; another makes the excellent point that if every seat belt, food package, cigarette warning and work-safety document had a big nader on it, we’d never doubt his love. Blame has turned Nader into a pariah; as conveyed here, maybe it’s time to salute his steadfastness instead. (Now playing; IFC Center.) — Joshua Rothkopf