Posted by Matt Rosenberg on April 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm
In honor of the national release of the film, we are reposting our review of Revenge of the Electric Car, the fascinating documentary that debuted at this past Tribeca Film Festival.
Director Chris Paine is back with his follow up to his hit documentary ‘Who Killed the Electric Car.’ Bringing along Elon Musk, CEO of Telsa Motors, Bob Lutz, Major Executive of GM, Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan/Renault, and his car-wiz buddy Greg “Gadget” Abbott, Chris Paine tells the brilliant story of four people doing their part to make electric cars the norm on the road. We left “Who Killed the Electric Car” at a bit of a downer, but Paine is back with this story to tell us that electric cars are back and more alive than ever. This documentary is as brilliant a doc as they come. An educational and groundbreaking storyteller, Paine with a camera is like Mozart composing his symphony.
First we have Elon Musk, founder of Paypal, SpaceX (which privatized space travel by putting a man in space) and CEO of Telsa Motors. Musk, a brilliant and ambitious entrepreneur, pours his blood, sweat and tears into disruptive technology. He basically has the John Locke (for those Lost fans) attitude in that his sub-concious reply to anything improbable is basically “don’t tell me what I can’t do.” Paine goes behind the scenes with Musk into his home and into the very very early days of Tesla. Musk started Tesla, named after the Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla, out of his passion to bring electric cars to the road. We see Telsa get started, see it in very financial darks days as it confronts the brink of bankruptcy, and it’s rise to the forefront of electric car making. Paine’s footage is amazing here. We see everything from Musk discussing with his top lieutenants about how to bring the company cashflow positive as well as showing him in a private meeting with his shareholders discussing more delays in the Telsa roadster. In this regard, these scenes will really appeal to business students itching to get a feel for the stress and strategy of running a company. Musk’s knowledge of the science behind all of this, is what really blew me away. He has the smarts to innovate scientifically and the business savvy to turn that into profit. Putting it simply, Telsa has made electric cars look cool.
Paine continues his story as he goes behind the scenes with Bob Lutz, a lifer in the automotive industry. Lutz, originally an anti-electric car guy to play it nicely, was the chief behind driving GM into developing the Chevy Volt, GM’s largest ever push in electric cars. Lutz, a charismatic corporate titan, is painted here as a gentle guy, the grandpa you’d expect to dress up as Santa Claus come Christmas time. Lutz is shown managing GM through its dark dark days as it went into and out of bankruptcy during the recession. However, the push for electric cars was so large that we see GM not let the recession destroy the Volt. Lutz is shown everywhere from the assembly line to the office. Musk and Lutz also cross paths during an auto-show as they are shown examining Nissan’s Leaf.
In come Carlos Ghosn, the confident CEO of Nissan/Renault. Ghosn has put Nissan’s entire company on the line with his push to tap into the electric car market. The overhead costs of producing the right vehicle in terms of range, size, and price put Ghosn in an extremely difficult spot. Paine gets his camera into board meetings and private calls as Ghosn consistently lobbies for the development of the Leaf. While at times Ghosn seems a bit arrogant, he remains adamant about the Leaf’s production. The Leaf is the affordable, four-door sedan for everyday folks who can’t afford the 100k Tesla roadster but still are looking to rid themselves of oil dependence.
Perhaps the most endearing part of the film concerns Greg “Gadget” Abbott and his wife. Gadget, a science wiz, has the talents to convert an oil-dependent car and make it operate on electricity. Gadget knows how important electric cars are and refuses to wait for corporate auto-makers to make their own. Either that, or he is just too smart and would rather build his own. From unfortunate fires in his body-shop to cracking engines, Gadget shows us how even one-person is looking to make a difference. I really liked how Paine wove this story in to give the feel of everyday people doing their part in the electric car push. It plays as a great segway between Tesla, GM and Nissan.
Narrated by the talented Tim Robbins, Revenge of the Electric Car is the inspiring story of titans racing to get their electric car out first. One of the most interesting and entertaining documentaries I have ever seen, Revenge of the Electric Car lets you into the amazing lives of four different people and their perspective on the electric car. I can’t even imagine how many hours of footage Paine and his team had to go through. Bravo to them. We don’t rate our movies with thumbs on this site, but both my thumbs here are way way up.
It’s not a question of how, it’s only a question of when and how fast. If you are at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival do yourself a favor and get to this movie immediately. Click here for tickets and showtimes.
This our 1000th post on the site and the longest review I have written in a while, and I am honored to have it be for this film.
check out the footage from the Q&A after the premiere