First Run Features // 2008 // 70 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // April 5th, 2010
I sell a good feeling.
At risk of stating the obvious, during peacetime and war, people need products. Manufacturers make money off their sale. This is the case with food, medicine and, of course, heavily armored vehicles. Whatever people produce, the sale of the product depends on market demand and necessity. In the case of Fidelis Cloer, he sells security in the form of armored cars. He has made quite a living off his product but, as we see in Bulletproof Salesman, such profits come with serious moral dilemmas.
Cloer is a war profiteer; he admits as much in this documentary directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker. Cloer also contends, however, that he is no more a profiteer than those who sell bandages during war. On the surface, this sounds like an awful statement of moral relativism, but on a certain level, I understand his point. If you don't give the bandages away, you turn a profit on them. Bandages and medicine are necessary, of course, but the money still goes into somebody's pocket. Its necessity makes it easier to swallow, but the principles of the free market in war are the same in both cases. Cloer defends himself well, though his honesty about his profession means he makes some harsh statements. He contends that he sells security, a product just as valuable and necessary as medicine; his armored vehicles keep people alive. If he profits off of this, so be it. Some of the money goes into his pockets, but much of it goes into the development of better, more secure products. The knowledge that goes into that development, however, raises plenty of conflicts.
Simply put, people have to die for Cloer to improve his products. Unless the armor fails, he can't see that there's a problem. His role in protecting people depends on violence, depends on death. With the knowledge he gets from the failure, he makes his vehicles more secure, which should protect his clients even more. It's a never-ending cycle, though. The armor gets better, so the weapons against it escalate. People die, so the armor gets better. That's super for the individuals inside the vehicle, but what about the pedestrians unprotected on the street. These increases mean a significant rise in collateral damage and civilian death. For those outside the armored car, that's anything but security.
Directors Epperlein and Tucker allow Cloer to speak for himself without interjecting any commentary. The closest they come is to highlight particular phrases of his for impact. The man, the subject, and the setting make for an absolutely fascinating documentary. Cloer allows the filmmakers unfettered access to his world, which can be pretty harrowing sometimes. The man is a salesman through and through, but his market includes some of the most dangerous places on the planet. We visit him in Jordan, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but he'll go anywhere in the world where violence occurs. Cloer believes in his product and it's hard to argue with the results. In Iraq, to demonstrate the effectiveness of a car, he brings a cameraman with and drives around while people shoot live rounds. Understandably, the cameraman is not a happy camper, but the car is perfectly fine after the assault. In order to show that his cars are also blast-proof, we travel with him to his testing facility, an undisclosed location in Germany. Massive explosives equal to twice the largest IED (Improvised Explosive Device) thus far used are set off directly next to the vehicle. I must say, the lack of a single smashed window more or less proves that Cloer makes a quality product.
Bulletproof Salesman is, at turns, hilarious, disturbing, and always highly entertaining. The sale of armored cars, on the surface, does not seem like a particularly exciting topic, but Cloer's personality makes it so. I'm most shocked by my general lack of outrage over the whole operation and, specifically, Cloer's ability to eliminate any culpability in the violence. He says that he can't start or end a war; he just profits off of it. This should make me mad in the same way as somebody saying that they don't hunt whales; they just like to eat them. In a different context, I'm sure I'd feel the same about Cloer's business, but Bulletproof Salesman is such a fascinating and well-made documentary, I can't help but forget my politics for these seventy minutes.
Bulletproof Salesman comes to us from First Run Features and is a technically solid, bare-bones release. The image is crisp and clean, but because of the video quality, it sometimes looks flat. The sound is consistently clear, with no hiss and easily understood dialog. There are no extras.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 70 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated