Controversy comes to town this week with Michael Moore’s new film, Capitalism: A Love Story. This means—among other things—that Moore will be accused of fudging facts, omitting details and even outright lying. In other words, he’ll be subject to the same charges he always is—and the same charges that can be leveled against virtually every other documentary ever made. It also means that I’ll be on the receiving end of letters and comments accusing me of being favorably disposed to Moore’s message. Fair enough. Yes, I do tend to be more in accord with Moore than not, so bear that in mind.
If you’re familiar with Moore’s other films—and by that I mean if you’ve actually seen them—this is hardly dissimilar. Moore uses his standard approach of attacking his subject in a manner where comedy is used to mask outrage and fun hides anger. The overall tone is playfully mocking, while some of Moore’s choices are nothing if not quirky (I still don’t get the idea of Wallace Shawn as an expert on free-market economy). But it’s all at the service of the deeper message at hand. Very often Moore does little beyond amass a body of evidence and lay it out before the viewer. He may tell you little you didn’t already know, but by concentrating the information into two hours of screen time, he gives it a weightiness it otherwise lacks. Overlooking an isolated outrage is easy. Ignoring a dozen or more in a short space of time is much harder to do.
In Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore takes aim at what he views as the stranglehold of corporate dominance on both the United States and the world. He gathers his information and selects the things that best make his case that capitalism is—or has become—an evil that is not only not inherent in the original principles of the United States of America, but is actually contrary to those principles. It’s a shrewdly crafted work. Moore mixes buffoonery with scenes of genuine heartbreak, as when a widow learns that the company that employed her husband has found a way to exploit him beyond the grave by having taken out a life insurance policy on him with the company as the beneficiary. (Such policies are contemptibly referred to as “dead peasant” policies.) Moore takes care to show the viewer that the family being victimized is not one you’d put in his personal camp by having his camera focus on a commemorative plate of presidents with a big picture of George W. Bush on the wall of their house.
There are problems with the film. There’s a growing sense of Moore repeating himself. His meditation—that maybe socialism isn’t the awful thing its detractors claim—is almost a replay of his look at the French people in Sicko (2007). His showboating and grandstanding is looking a little tired, but then so is the 55-year-old Moore—and that actually may work in the film’s favor as the thing that sets it apart from his previous work. There’s a sense of personal frustration, desperation and disillusionment underlying Capitalism that’s unique to it. Maybe he’s worn out by making documentaries that receive critical acclaim, make unheard-of amounts of money (for documentaries) and yet haven’t exactly corrected the ills he addresses. Perhaps the importance of simply daring to address those ills is seeming less and less satisfying.
Whether or not the viewer agrees with Moore’s take on how America’s financial mess came about is another matter. Similarly, his blistering take on Ronald Reagan is bound to polarize viewers, though it might be noted that his views on Bill Clinton are far from glowing. For that matter, his lionization of FDR and his inclusion of FDR’s speech about a “second Bill of Rights” aren’t going to suit everyone. But why should it? That’s not the point. If the film entertains you and outrages you, it’s done its job remarkably well. Rated R for some language.