Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Movie Information

Justin Pemberton’s informative, entertaining documentary chronicles the global path to our current wealth disparity issues and offers solutions to reverse destructive economic trends.
Genre: Documentary
Director: Justin Pemberton
Starring: Thomas Piketty, Gillian Tett, Ian Bremmer, Kate Williams
Rated: NR

Informative and possibly transformative, the documentary Capital in the Twenty-First Century offers a stunning history lesson of the past 200-plus years. Focusing on the turbulent 20th century, director Justin Pemberton makes a convincing case that capital has been civilization’s driving force over that stretch, and that greed and improper taxation have been at the root of humanity’s major global problems.

Based on the bestseller by French economist Thomas Piketty — a frequent talking head here, along with other well-spoken experts in his field — the film makes succinct, straightforward points with help from stunning, original footage of wealth and poverty that suggest Pemberton would be a great candidate to helm a fourth Qatsi chapter.

Immune to dullness, Capital in the Twenty-First Century is thoroughly entertaining in its combination of quick edits, colorful graphics and inspired musical selections, but really shines in its charming use of clips from A Tale of Two Cities (1935), Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Les Misérables (2012) to depict historical income and class disparities.

Equally powerful are poignant scenes from lesser-known films that dramatize British colonial violence, plus Michael Douglas’ famously misunderstood “Greed is good” speech from Wall Street (1987) and various shots from Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium (2013), whose despictions of a desolate Earth for the masses, and an Edenic orbiting space station for the ultrarich feel less like sci-fi with each passing day.

No mere chronicle of the past, Capital in the Twenty-First Century also looks to the future, spurred by troubling patterns that are beginning to repeat themselves, as well as new issues, including baby boomers’ children being worse off than their parents.

Brutally tough on the obscenely wealthy and on corporations that evade taxes to boost profits without benefiting the communities in which their products are made, the filmmakers aim to reverse these and other destructive trends, and in the process raise a sobering call to action before it’s too late.

Now available to rent via

About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA).

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.