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Director Michael Moore stopped making documentaries years ago.  Moore has absconded with the title of documentarian and used it to make films that are the equivalent of the Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park.  His movies are an opportunity to vent his spleen on all manner of subjects from gun control, to healthcare and now, in his latest effort, Capitalism: A Love Story, to the United States’ financial structure (- and lack therof).  Luckily, Moore is a canny enough filmmaker to inject the right balance of entertainment and foursquare truths in his cinematic screeds to keep the audience entertained and fascinated.

After an opening montage of security-cam footage featuring some truly desperate Darwin Award-worthy bank robbers, Moore begins his documentary with 1950’s school films depicting the fall of ancient Rome, drawing parallels to the United States today.  He goes on to show happy home movies and Baby Boom-era TV ads about how well the capitalist system worked when he was a young boy growing up in Flint, Michigan, back when the United States was the leader of industry with no serious competition from other world powers as exists today.  It’s only after the appearance of Ronald Reagan and his “trickle-down” theory of economics as dictated by his Secretary to the Treasury, former Merrill Lynch CEO, Don Regan, that we see the Dark Side of where “Reaganomics” and by association, capitalism, was headed.  For the next two hours, Mr. Moore is going to connect the dots and demonstrate why what started off as such a bountiful proposition has festered and become the root of all America’s financial ills.

Moore visits with families from different parts of the country being evicted from homes and farms sometimes in those family for generations, due to bank failure and Alan Greenspan’s concept of using your own paid-up property as collateral and borrowing against the roof over your head.  He interviews a shameless real estate carpetbagger in Miami, whose greatest joy is discovering abandoned condos that he can then resell, or “flip” for millions of dollars.  He infiltrates a shut-in by a group of factory workers all about to be let go, who refuse to leave their workplace.  Other examples of failures of the capitalist system are Moore’s revelations about the salaries of airline pilots; some making an average of nineteen thousand dollars a year and needing to take on second and third jobs while attempting to keep planeloads of us safe thirty thousand feet in the air.  Moore discovers a whistle blower who exposes the incentives and virtually free money handed to VIP’s and politicians in banking and loan scandals.  He also uncovers an actual memo by one financial institution advising its highest seated members to consider instituting a form of government where the wealthiest rule over America’s poor and middle class.  Moore shows us a privatised juvenile penal system, where judges were given kickbacks to pad the jails with scores of children, no matter how primary or minor the offense.  Moore exposes the truly heinous practise utilised by many major US companies; holding secret life insurance policies on their employees, labeled “dead peasant” policies.  When an employees dies, their workplace benefits financially with not a dime going to the devastated family.

In rebuttal, we see Moore in full activist jester mode turning up in downtown Manhattan, attempting to invade AIG headquarters to make a citizen’s arrest on their CEO for the thefts of millions of taxpayer dollars.  Always prepared, Moore even thinks ahead to bring a money bag to retrieve the stolen spoils.  He stands outside the Stock Exchange asking every one of its denizens to stop and explain some of the smoke and mirrors policies currently governing what happens to our dollars and wraps yellow police tape around both AIG and the SE declaring each a crime scene.  Moore takes the time to look heavenward for some guidance, asking his priest and eventually the Bishop of Detroit what Jesus’ thoughts on capitalism would be.  Unsurprisingly, both clergymen declare it to be anti-Jesus and inherently evil.  He balances the picture of the evil that capitalism has become with the days when his father worked at a Flint auto plant for more than 30 years in a time when the employer actually looked out for his workers.  Viewing capitalism as a failing system, Moore focuses on the bank bailouts and why they were such a mistake, and he elevates the politicians that stood against the corporate handouts to hero status.

For all his ranting about the American financial system and the displays of the suffering by those directly affected by the heedless decisions of the very wealthy, Moore never presents an alternative theory.  Moore may never speak it for fear of giving his detractors the biggest chew toy in the world to play with, but the “S” word hovers over the film like a supporting player, nonetheless.  Just when you’ve seen enough of capitalism’s failures and its utter indifference to the woes of the country’s poorest, Moore surprises the audience with a mesmerising piece of film.  He reveals 1944 footage of Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposing a second bill of rights that would have provided and ensured the rights of all US citizens to healthcare (!), a decent job, a good education and an affordable home, amongst other basic life provisions that would today give the current Republican minority conniptions.  Roosevelt died before his plan could be made into reality, but the haunting knell of his words really makes one hope the current president has seen this footage and been inspired by the fading Roosevelt’s absolute conviction in his courageous proposal.

Incendiary for its timing, subject matter and the totems he goes after, Capitalism: A Love Story succeeds in being at the very least thought-provoking.  Moore is angry and he’s happy to encourage you to be equally irate.  The film itself veers dangerously into hammer over the head mawkishness as unfortunate after unfortunate is wheeled before the camera and Moore’s narration toward the end starts to sound like a droning whine. 

In earlier films, like Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 he managed to give the grimmest facts and revelations with a modicum of charm that made the medicine go down a bit sweeter.  Here’s there’s not as much sugar to be had.  Even a Terry Gilliam-style animation of former President G.W. Bush terrifying the American people with a speech predicting the end of the world as we know it if the bank bailouts didn’t go through seemed forced.  The lack of any opposing viewpoint and no end of adherents (- Including one woman during the factory sequence that seemed uncomfortably like a professional agitator) to Moore’s views puts the kibosh on any hope of getting another side of the issue.  Then again, is that what anybody going to see this movie is expecting?  Make no mistake; this is a two-hour op-ed piece where Moore rages against the hijacking of the American Dream by special, i.e., the wealthiest, interests.  While overlong and not the most inspired of his films, his fight for the little guy message and genuine outrage of Capitalism: A Love Story might be the one to spur more moviegoers into action or activism than any of his previous works.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Oct 1st, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Overture Films)

 

 

 

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