Bringing Steve D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner’s non-fiction bestseller to the screen was always going to be tricky. Millions of readers enjoyed ‘Freakonomics’ for its fresh insights into accepted everyday verities by analysing them in terms of monetary incentives and the hidden patterns exposed by statistical analysis – yet in celluloid terms it evidently lacked a compelling through-line. So, the producers have opted for the portmanteau approach, inviting high-profile documentarists to contribute four distinct segments, while the linking material revolves around lively interviews with the authors.
Inevitably, some sections fare better than others. Alex Gibney’s look at corruption in sumo wrestling and its metaphorical correlation with the murky depths of the markets proves the meatiest offering, while Morgan Spurlock’s investigation of the black-white cultural-economic divide in naming kids is the lightest and most amusing. By contrast, the remaining items seem rather fuzzier in execution. Although the various directors use graphics and animation to jazz up the visuals to a pleasing degree, none of this is much more incisive than anything you’d see on, say, the average ‘Newsnight’, while the absence of a strong connecting thread does weaken its claims on your attention.