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Dirty Money review – Alex Gibney left choking with rage by VW

Dirty Money
Dirty Money. Photograph: Netflix

I thought I knew the VW emissions scandal story quite well. But I’ve never seen it so well laid out as in this documentary, Hard NOx, one of a new investigative Netflix series from Alex Gibney about scandal and corruption in the business world.

It is mainly told from a US viewpoint but the story is a global one, from 2015, when the German car manufacturer was discovered to have installed defeat devices to dupe emissions tests, affecting 11m vehicles.

Gibney directs and presents this episode himself, and brings to it an extraordinary thoroughness. He interviews everyone who could and would be interviewed – VW employees, scientists, testers, lawyers, car journalists, etc, and turns up new evidence, more shocking details about the scale of the deceit, the attempts to cover it up, and the unhealthy alliance between governments and car manufacturers that allowed it to happen in the first place.

He also sets Volkswagen in a historical context, going right back to Hitler and his people’s car, through the 60s counterculture of Beetles and Campers, to declining sales, and the intense pressure to sell more, at any cost, which is what a corporate culture permeated by fraud was born of.

It’s not unreasonable to bring Hitler in, given that he is actually part of the story, though perhaps the attorney Michael Melkersen is taking it a bit far when he says: “Obviously one cannot help but think back throughout history to another series of events involving people being gassed.” There was actually a proposal to test vehicle emissions on a human participant, but even VW thought it might not look good and opted for non human primates. Gas the monkeys instead.

Gibney bought a VW himself, a diesel Jetta. He believed the lies, thought it was the right thing to do. Now he’s really cross. “Fuck Volkswagen,” he suddenly says, driving along in a car that is polluting 50 times more than was advertised. His wife is angrier still: she wanted to chainsaw the dealership.

This personal take, the rage, adds power and poignancy. Who says a documentary needs to be entirely objective? Can it ever be? Plus, it helps make the programme not only a story of corporate corruption, and calculations about risk and reward, but a very human scandal, too, about the lungs of our children being damaged by NOx fumes that could have been contained. And it leaves you hopping, choking mad.

Yeah, Volkswagen, what Gibney said, in his car, that.

This article titled "Dirty Money review – Alex Gibney left choking with rage by VW" was written by Sam Wollaston, for The Guardian on Saturday 27 January 2018 06.30am

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