Reviews of the movie Beer Wars are popping up, and since I was one of a few folks who went to see it at Pacific Place here in Seattle, I figured I’d toss my 2 cents in the ring.
Short version: It sucked.
Beer Wars tried to tell the story of David and Goliath as seen through the eyes of Big Breweries vs. Small Breweries. It had three major characters: Rhonda Kallman, ex-executive of the Boston Beer Company; Sam Calagione, the head dude over at Dogfish Head; and the “big breweries,” who weren’t really represented by anyone in particular.
I’m not even sure where to begin here, so I’m just going to go down the list of stuff that was wrong with this movie. Bullet points are better for the Internet than essays anyway.
- The director, Anat Baron, is not a journalist, nor a good documentarian. I would wager that Sam and Rhonda were the only two people she filmed for this documentary, and it didn’t work (see below). We see Anat speaking directly to several people over the course of the film, but she rarely asks hard questions or tries to get to the bottom of anything. The crowning achievement was her “attempt” to talk to the CEO of Budweiser, August Busch III. This segment consisted of her walking up to him at a conference, telling him (sheepishly) that she was filming a movie, him saying, “Why don’t you call me, we’ll set something up,” and then her giving up on the thing.
What? Really? That’s not how you make a documentary, lady. You need to be a journalist first, filmmaker second, and money-grubbing hound last.
- Rhonda was an absolutely abysmal choice to play opposite Dogfish Head. She was trying to start a company that makes caffeinated beer. We never see her brew. We never even see her brewery (it’s probably a contract brew through Sam Adams, given her connections). She even tries to sell her operation to every major brewery (Miller, Coors, AB, even Boston Beer), despite that the whole movie is trying to present her as “the little guy.”
Did no one think that this would undermine the point of the film? It was a laughable addition.
- The movie was plagued by poor editing, poor lighting, bad white balance, and other amatuerish mistakes that not even I would make. The live intro was abysmal — did they even practice?
- There is no conflict in the movie at all until the very end, when Sam Calagione says that he’s being sued by AB for the names of two of his beers (Chicory Stout and Punkin Ale). There is no follow-up to this, it’s just mentioned in 2 minutes and then done. The same is true of the Miller-Coors merger — mentioned at the end and then dropped.
- There was no arc at all. No interaction between the characters. It wasn’t a documentary, really, it was a log of various disparate events. There was no story, no personal or professional tale for the audience to really identify with, very few interesting facts, and lots of poorly explained ones. The Prohibition to Modern Brewing story is easy to tell, interesting, and sets up a framework in which you can really see Dogfish Head as an underdog. But the movie doesn’t tell that story well — it barely tells it at all.
Overall, the whole thing stunk of a money grab. I was rather offended, really, that she seemed to be pretending to be part of the beer community (she’s actually allergic to booze) in order to make this “documentary.” It felt Sophomorish in production quality, and the story told was not unlike a story for 60-minutes that simply ran too long.