American Dream (1992)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

Depicting the effects of a mid-1980s strike by the employees of a Hormel meat-packing plant in Austin, Minnesota, Barbara Kopple's Academy Award-winning documentary American Dream observes both the daily struggles of the striking workers and the behind-the-scenes conflicts amongst the union leaders. Upset at a proposed pay cut, the local union chapter begins the strike against the advice of their parent organization, hiring an outside consultant who encourages the workers. This consultant's aggressive, no-compromise approach turns the conflict into national news but also alienates management. Soon, despite the efforts of a seasoned negotiator sent by the parent union, the company has locked out the workers and hired scabs, leading to a series of violent conflicts amongst members of the community. The workers' resolve progressively fades as the battle extends into months and years, and the financial hardships they and their families suffer leads some to doubt the value of their efforts. Kopple, who had previously covered an extended miner's strike in the acclaimed 1977 documentary Harlan County, USA, focuses on the personalities and emotions behind the strike, creating a highly charged portrait of labor that is sympathetic to the workers' distress without ignoring the strike's greater ambiguities.
Documentary , Special Interest
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Critic Reviews for American Dream

All Critics (6) | Top Critics (1)

Though a political film about labor unionism, American Dream is ultimately about the decimation of a social community, one that has suffered divorces, illnesses and broken friendships as a result of the conflict.

Full Review… | May 13, 2006

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October 31, 2003
Las Vegas Review-Journal

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August 9, 2002
Northwest Herald (Crystal Lake, IL)

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January 29, 2002

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Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

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Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Austin Chronicle

Audience Reviews for American Dream

Gives you a painful but honest on all sides look at what labor unions have to go through when they go into strike-mode, and how corporations, starting in the 80's, say the unions flaws in negotiating as a means to get in to change things for their benefit. It's that kind of movie though that doesn't discriminate in a key way - I think if you're pro-union or anti-union even, you can get something out of this take by how Kopple presents everything. The characters here all want what's best, but it's not so simple as'let's negotiate a contract'. Sides become fractured, tempers get flared, and a 'labor consultant' arguably muddies the waters early on in the negotiating. By the time it gets to be many weeks into the strike, some of the folks on the picket lines get desperate, cross and go back to work, and the sides become even more fractured. It's about the Hormel meat-packing district, but the staying power of the film is this: it could be anywhere. Is it just about if wages decrease by two dollars, or four dollars, or about something more when it comes to bargaining, the rights of workers, and who is really in control? The interviews and perspective are in large part on Lewie Anderson, who probably has the most common sense as we can see it (or rather in comparison with the Consultant Ray Rogers, who is technically a corporate guy as well), and how he has to approach the union and the chief committee about where to go with Hormel - and of course the flaws are there, like rewriting the contract that has forty years of bargaining in it for the rights of the workers. This is not to say that, for the warts-and-all approach Kopple takes, that she is on the side of the corporate masters at Hormel. We see one of their spokesman, who is a down-the-line party guy (maybe not as villainous as, say, a Roger Smith from Roger & Me, but what is). But it's mostly there, in those halls and on the picket lines and in those smokey, emotional offices that Kopple takes her sights and tells this story. It is a complicated tale to tell, that is without easy answers, but by the end you can't say you don't see how things did not turn out well, especially with the greater picture (albeit not shown really or at least on the level of the 'smaller-but-bigger' picture the director paints) that the country was in at the time, and still are. What happens to these Americans, all hard workers, when faced against corporate pressures, and then other workers are brought in across the picket lines. What happens to society?

Jack Gattanella
Jack Gattanella

As in, the power working folk can have on the "Local" level, the power of the parent Unions, and the power of a company. I've seen the movie plenty, and changed views just as often. Ultimately a defeat, hopefully some lessons learned by others. Last time I watched it, a few minutes in I was crying because I knew what was to come. It can be highly heart-wrenching, but is well deserving of your attention.

Michael Adamski
Michael Adamski

Generally interesting documentary. It began to sound like the same thing over and over, striking employees whining about the same thing. I didn't sympathize with them much, if they didn't like it they should get another job. They make it sound like it was unreasonable for Hormel to make a bigger profit. They are a business, their goal is to make as much profit as they can. The reduced wage put in place didn't seem that bad to me. I wouldn't have liked it either, but whining gets you nowhere, I just would have sought employment elsewhere if I was unhappy.

James Higgins
James Higgins

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