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Little Pink House

“the law of the land . . . postpone[s] even public necessity to the sacred and inviolable rights of private property.”

Takings its inspiration from that gaudy pink house, writer/director Courtney Moorehead Balaker delivers a screenplay deserving of the aesthetics. A cliché portrayal of village idiots and the government thieves who come to steal, kill, and destroy, Little Pink House is the type of legal film that you can expect from someone who can’t even get right the name of the Chief Justice. Besides the nonprofit who took the case all the way to the Supreme Court (Institute for Justice), no other hero is even remotely bearable when they open their mouth and even the non-profit is depicted as an ineffectual bench warmer with confidence seemingly so low that they appear just happy to be there.

In the film, Catherine Keener plays the main protagonist, Susette Kelo, a Connecticut woman forced out of her home by eminent domain so that a pharmaceutical giant (Pfizer) can pursue a “sweetheart tax-revenue-boosting development deal” faciliated by the state governor. The doctrine of eminent domain appears inside the last few words of the Fifth Amendment: “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Described by Ilya Somin, it is a process that allows the government to condemn homes in order to promote “economic development.” This was how the Supreme Court framed the issue underlying the film:

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Somin explains: “[a]lthough the Fifth Amendment only permits the taking of private property for ‘public use,’ a narrow 5-4 majority ruled that a taking that transfers property to private developers is permissible.” In its deeply unpopular (and narrow) decision, the Supreme Court upheld the project, refusing to “second-guess the City’s considered judgments about the efficacy of its development plan” and  “decline[d] to second-guess the City’s determinations as to what lands it needs to acquire in order to effectuate the project.” Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., 545 U.S. 469, 489 (2005).

The dissenters in the case explain the perceived consequenes of the decision:

“Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded—i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public—in the process.”

Little Pink House takes an interesting story about the legal ramifications surrounding the doctrine of eminent domain and turns it into a shallow piece of emotional battery that yields focus too much on the plight of the neighborhood, instead of the richness of the Fifth Amendment doctrine and specifics of the governments crooked actions to take the homes. The few scenes that show this conniving undertaking were abrupt and poorly executed—at times, embarrassingly so with failed attempts at humor—including the dramatics of the Supreme Court oral argument that pales in comparison to what a competent writer/director like Aaron Sorkin could have done. As Jeannette Catsoulis (New York Times) correctly writes: “[i]n its earnest attempt to present a landmark legal case as a classic underdog story, “Little Pink House,” . . . succeeds neither narratively nor visually.” 

Like the Little Pink House property today, this film is nothing short of an empty plot of land, useful only to a colony of feral cats. Despite throwing the review to make a public statement, Kyle Smith is right: “Little Pink House should be viewed by every teen & young adult”—but only as punishment.


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