Errol Morris has a signature style. He employs stock footage, demanding music and talking heads that usually have a personal story to tell. In Fog of War, Tabloid, and a Brief History of Time, all of these accoutrements add resonance to an already intense story. But his signature style isn’t right for every movie he has ever made. Case in point: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control.
Morris takes the lives of four unique men and mashes them up into this movie. A mole rat expert, a topiary gardener, a robotics professor, and a lion tamer all get the chance to show how enthusiastic they are for their craft. They talk about what drives them to achieve unusual goals and carry on with such a niche profession. They also seemed to have been goaded into taking their profession and philosophizing on it. The robotics professor especially talks about how fleeting human life can be and how robots can help prolong it and make it easier. This is all placed against footage of a circus, mole rats, the garden in which the gardener works, and old serial footage of the most famous lion tamer ever. Watching the stock footage is almost better than listening to what these men have to say. This surprised me because the nature of obsession is usually one of my favorite themes for films. But Morris takes out all of the life of these people by divorcing them from their craft and placing them in a cold sterile room facing his camera. Their affection for their craft is observed instead of felt.
This film was hermetically sealed. Morris didn’t achieve any greater idea, get to any universal truth nor really reveal anything beyond what is on the surface. I think it is mostly because Morris is trying hard to force these four people into one movie. If it was a mini-series instead of a feature-length movie, I think we would have had a richer reading of these subjects. Instead of having to force each person’s ideas and ideals to match or directly contrast with another, we could have gotten time to really live inside this person’s mind. What they are saying is interesting. How Morris is able to edit together and get the information he needs is not.