Director: Michael Moore
IN THE unlikely event you reach the end of Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story and still don’t know the director’s view on his central subject, here’s how Moore summarises his arguments: “Capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil. You have to eliminate it and replace it with something that is good for all people, and that something is democracy.”
As you may have determined, the “love story” hinted at in the title does not include Moore as a protagonist. Rather this film, the latest from cinema’s loudest liberal voice, is a swipe at the corporate profiteers seduced by the relentless quest for personal wealth. In Moore’s eyes these are the people responsible for turfing millions of honest Americans out of their homes, picking over their bones for more money, and (probably) bathing in liquid gold at night, relishing a joyous soundtrack of the working class’s anguished squeals. They’re not even democratic, for heaven’s sake.
Having previously centred his crosshairs on gun laws (in Bowling for Columbine), the Bush administration (Fahrenheit 9/11) and the American healthcare system (Sicko), Moore returns to the setting of his first film, Roger and Me, to gun for the very governmental system that has fuelled much of his enmity. Roger and Me centred on the malaise of Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan, once the prosperous hub of General Motors, but recently a ghost town of unemployment and destitution after the failure of GM’s corporate strategy. Moore now sees the whole of America steadily turning into Flint and elects himself as the leader in the fight against the tyranny of men in business suits who are running us all into the ground.
By now, Moore’s guerrilla tactics are well known. Armed with a megaphone and a film crew he arrives at Capitol Hill or at the headquarters of billion-dollar corporations “requesting” explanations from politicians or CEOs for their crimes. In Capitalism, his new quirk is to bring an empty armoured van with him, in which to transport billions of dollars of bailout money back to the federal reserve, from which, in Moore’s view, it was stolen by stealth and deception. It’s an ironic set piece, of course, rather like when he stretches “Crime Scene” tape around various banks’ offices, and it’s all amusing enough; Moore’s gifts as a filmmaker mean his movies are rarely boring. Essentially, however, we are offered two choices as an audience: whoop and cheer and fall into blind step behind him, or grow tired very quickly of his infantile approach and ignore pretty much everything he says.
Perhaps it’s important to insert a disclaimer here: my own knowledge of how capitalism works is no more advanced than that of a toddler. This is partly because I regard an investment as nothing more than the loose change I might drop into my piggy bank, but mainly because the natural reaction of my eyes and ears to words such as “differentials” and “hedge fund” is that they grow a thick film over them. Even in my ignorance, however, I suspect that more goes on in the boardrooms of Goldman Sachs and the US treasury than the systematic plotting of how to screw the world’s poor. Moore doesn’t necessarily agree and instead lines up one talking head after another to tell tales of corporate greed at the expense of human wellbeing.
Families watch their homes repossessed; children cry at the news their parents’ employers profited from insurance policies taken out in the event of death. It’s murky stuff for sure, but Moore’s insistence on having children’s tears lubricate a point is ghastly mawkishness. “We’re just hard-working people trying to survive,” says one of the interviewees, taking time out from throwing his possessions on a bonfire. One can only imagine Moore’s delight at such a soundbite. It’s trite, sentimental and simplistic all in a single sentence. Ideal.
It would be foolish to approach a Moore film expecting balanced argument, but the relentless optimist still hopes for one, or at least a believable voice dissenting from the central polemic. It would add much more credibility to Moore’s theses if he demonstrated proof that he at least understands two sides.
12. Apr 2010 at 0:00 | Howard Swains