Former investment banker Ami Horowitz was inspired to make his debut film, U.N. Me, after seeing Bowling For Columbine and thinking he could do something similar highlighting the problems with the United Nations. U.N. Me is all too true to that vision; Horowitz, who co-directed with fellow first-timer Matthew Groff, appears in the film and narrates it, cobbling together a case that’s sometimes breezily compelling, and at other times condescending and oversimplified. Horowitz has Michael Moore’s smug tendencies without his schlubby everyman charm, which makes his attempts at goading humor out of uncomfortable interviews come off as unpleasant. The film is stronger when using news footage to show where the U.N. has failed at its goals.
First among those failures is peacekeeping, and U.N. Me makes a damning argument with regard to the organization’s unwillingness to intervene in the Rwandan genocide or in Darfur, portraying a group of people too cautious, self-protective, and insistent on preserving an image of neutrality to take action even to prevent mass murder. The film also presents a fair though less weighty point about the U.N. having become a bureaucracy without consequences, a place where no one seems to be held accountable for giant fuck-ups like the corruption-rife Oil-For-Food program.
But the film blindly avoids any problematic big-picture questions. For instance, Horowitz points out as ludicrous the fact that the U.N. has no definition of terrorism; he even buys a Webster’s dictionary for one interviewee. Ha ha? A group labeled terrorists can easily become revolutionaries, depending on who ends up in charge and where the labeler stands politically, but why go into complicated realities when you can just take a cheap shot? The film is similarly aghast at the fact that Iran, China, Syria, and the like are allowed to sit in on the Human Rights and Security Councils in spite of their records, though it isn’t willing to advocate kicking them out of the U.N., nor will it explore what that would mean. Most irritatingly, the film mocks the lack of authority that the U.N. has without advocating giving it more power—and considering Horowitz’s conservative politics, it seems unlikely he’d advocate such a thing. The U.N. may be tasked with the impossible, but Horowitz’s implied suggestion that it obviously should just do all the things he personally believes in misses the point of the struggle for international conversation and collaboration.