That’s Capitalism, folks…Moore or less.
Up today on the Total Film website, a piece I did on Michael Moore’s Best & Worst. Read it! It’s like Russian roulette – one minute he’s an inspirational genius, the next an annoying fat man. Sometimes both.
Anyway, as part of the research I watched his latest, Capitalism: A Love Story, on telly. So here’s a fuller review just of that film.
Capitalism: A Love Story
(Michael Moore, US, 2009)
Michael Moore isn’t shy about his targets. Gun control, healthcare insurers, the Government itself. Now, he takes on the entire philosophy that underpins his nation.
Michael Moore doesn’t give up, does he? Bowling For Columbine might not have shamed the NRA into giving up their rifles. Fahrenheit 9/11, if anything, mobilised the neocon vote to keep George W. Bush in power. And Sicko didn’t cure America’s healthcare industry overnight… And yet, look now. The Bush era is a thing of the past, and Obama’s biggest policy shift has been universal healthcare. The guns are still loaded, but there’s time.
There’s the slightest hint in Capitalism: A Love Story that Moore thinks, simply by taking on Wall Street, his huffing and puffing will be enough to bring it tumbling down. Maybe not immediately but – like the dam metaphor used to highlight the erosion of the financial system – one day capitalism itself will collapse. And why not? For most of its running time, this is one of his most startling polemics, vibrantly angry at the horrors caused by faceless business.
It’s familiar enough territory from docs like The Corporation and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, but here Moore is at an advantage because of his tried-and-tested methods. He gets a lot of stick for putting himself at the forefront of his movies, but it must be said his presence gets people to open up, whether it’s politicians, celebrities (Wallace Shawn, contextualising capitalism with the voice of Rex from Toy Story), or the many workers and ex-workers destroyed by the system. He interviews pilots for corporate airlines out-earned by bread manufacturers in a collective, kids on juvenile misdemeanour charges fast-tracked into private detention by judges on the payroll and, most ghastly of all, spouses of workers whose bosses made millions on ‘dead peasant’ insurance policies.
Moore trusts to testimony, it seems, more than usual, keeping the editorialising less overt than usual. But when it comes, there are few documentarians this capable of playing with material. A jovially menacing montage showing the rise of Reaganomics is worthy of Adam Curtis, while a panicky Dubya address about financial meltdown is subverted with sound and visual effects to become a disaster movie. The least reliable elements are the showboating set-pieces where Moore tries to make citizen arrests on financiers or turn Wall Street into a crime scene with police tape. His more outré gags rise and fall on their effect; this time, he doesn’t even seem to have tried to come up without something that might actually catch somebody off guard.
But then, that’s probably the point. This subject is so labyrinthine that Moore – standing at the edge of the maze with a lantern in his hand – would do well to get anywhere near the Minotaurs feasting at the trough. As Moore gets to the meat of his story – the sub-primes and bail-outs – the film becomes close to a political thriller, as Moore interviews Congressmen and women on park benches coming on like Donald Sutherland in JFK with their hushed insights into financial coups. This is Moore at his best: righteously angry, passionate and darkly funny.
But suddenly there’s a twist, a faint glimmer of hope, and we’re watching the other Moore, that slightly annoying fat bloke telling us what to think. The final half hour of the film, after the most nightmarish of starts, is a (self-) congratulatory sigh of relief that the liberals are suddenly prepared to shout down Congress, commit to civil disobedience and vote in a “Socialist” President. It’s heady, moving stuff…but instantly undercut when Moore reminds us that Roosevelt failed to effect such change sixty five years ago. The final moments show the slightest hint of weariness at Moore’s position as troubadour and cheerleader, although like everything else, it’s probably just another act to get a rise out of us.