The Good: Packed with information, A good fundamental argument, Generally well-presented
The Bad: Shotgun approach arguing, Doesn't nail the points home.
The Basics: Michael Moore's latest documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story is well-researched, but lacks some of the punch of his other works.
Every now and then, I encounter a film where I sit, enjoy it and I know that the American population just isn't getting it. Movies like Blood Diamond and V For Vendetta had great points, presented them well and still, the Revolution did not come. Citizens did not stop buying diamonds, even after seeing the atrocious conditions with which the diamond trade thrives and we did not overthrow the capitalist institutions and bloated anti-democratic government machines that keep us in our place. I, at least, feel like I have a little room to gripe about this: seeing Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (reviewed here!) was the last impetus I needed to try to work for change myself; I ran for the U.S. Congress (woefully unsuccessfully for six months, but I ran!). With his latest documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore falls sadly quite far away from his prior persuasive abilities.
And before any lame attempts to discredit my review come from the idea that I am either against Michael Moore or in favor of the "party line" on Capitalism, I've been a pretty avid Michael Moore fan since Fahrenheit 9/11 and one of my earliest reviews was evaluating The Communist Manifesto (here!). I've long railed against capitalism (largely because I get crushed by it and am unable to follow my real passions because I'm too busy paying bills) and I've often agreed with Michael Moore (and Karl Marx's) interpretations of history. The problem is, Capitalism: A Love Story is far less focused than Moore's other works. As a result, it becomes much more difficult to be swayed by his convincing points. Sadly, Moore misses some real opportunities to expose the real "villains" in his documentary. Even so, Capitalism: A Love Story is packed with information, graphic illustrations of the heavyhandedness of the capitalist institutions and anecdotes about the way United States capitalism has become bloated.
After splicing together an old documentary on the fall of Rome with current trends in the United States, Michael Moore treats viewers to witness an eviction of a family due to foreclosure on their home. Returning to 1950s propaganda films, Moore illustrates how ingrained capitalism was in the United States's collective unconscious while illustrating that the 1950s offered the greatest period of growth and stability for the middle class due to socialist influences, like the unions. Moore then picks his target: Ronald Reagan. Following on Jimmy Carter's attempt to warn the American people about the dangers of unbridled capitalism, Reagan rides into Washington, D.C. with deregulation on his mind. Pressured by advisors who have the greatest stake in making more profit, Reagan helped to bust unions and deregulate financial, real estate and manufacturing industries to gut the financial strength of the United States. After a series of alarming and convincing graphs, Moore effectively illustrates that Reagan's deregulation was the turning point for the U.S. economy and the arguable cause of many of the woes that followed.
What follows is an exploration of capitalism as a possible sin, with Moore getting several religious leaders from various churches to explain why Jesus would likely have resisted or rejected many capitalist institutions. As well, Moore profiles a sit down strike in Chicago, explores the concept of derivatives (absolutely hilarious, when it's not being scary!) and illustrates that the post-World War II nations the U.S. rebuilt followed more socialist models and as a result, are thriving today. Capitalism: A Love Story closes with FDR's proposed second Bill Of Rights which would offer U.S. citizens greater economic freedom and Moore arguing that it is time to enact this.
Here is the fundamental problem with Capitalism: A Love Story. Moore concludes that he's not going to live with crushing forces of capitalism anymore and he is not up for leaving, so he exhorts us to be part of the change. But he does not offer any real, recognizable, or actionable plans to do that. V For Vendetta, for example, provided a problem and a remedy: arrive here on X date and we will rally to stop our oppressors! Moore, who has been part of organizing political events and tours, could have easily capped the film off with "Converge on [Washington, Wall Street, etc.] with me on November 1 and let's make sure these fugitives from social justice do not get away!" Instead, he simply makes an argument and then says "I'm not going to stand for it, join me." Well, if I learned anything from my political career it was first you have to have an audience. But after that, you have to have an actionable message. Moore, alas, does not with this documentary.
As well, Moore misses a few important opportunities. After exposing a company's memo on how the economic elite run the nation (a biting document following on the heels of revelations of dead peasant insurance policies being taken out on unsuspecting workers!), Moore reveals that the 1% economic elite is most terrified of the common citizens because of our voting power. Yes, if we execute our democratic powers - Moore argues - we may topple the regime. Unfortunately, here Capitalism: A Love Story misses its opportunity to make one of the best points it might make, which is that the U.S. Government has turned over manufacture of voting machines to private companies (having tested the new ones New York State is using at my local library two weekends ago and seeing NONE of the ballots getting counted by the actual machine, I am now absolutely terrified about our democracy!). Moore correctly evaluates the problems and the one potential action he advises is now in danger of being corrupted by the influences he has eloquently exposed throughout the rest of the film! That he neglects this vital argument is more than simply problematic, it is sloppy.
That said, Capitalism: A Love Story is remarkably informative. For example, Moore explores some of the recent terminology in American finances, like derivatives. He illustrates a complex formula for a derivative and he tries to get two experts to describe just what they are. Neither one gets it on their first pass and neither one can put them into concrete terms. While the film includes ridiculous bits of idiocy (like people who cannot seem to fathom what "dead peasants" means) the attempted explanation of derivatives is shocking for how convoluted the idea and execution are. Moore does an exceptional job of exposing the means with which U.S. citizens are kept down.
As well, fans of Michael Moore's other works will appreciate Moore's on-screen antics, like his attempt to cordon off Wall Street buildings with crime scene tape and his attempts to make citizen arrests on various CEOs. But more than that - Moore has little personality within the film, once again letting the facts speak for themselves - Moore is quite well-informed on the nature of the institutions he is attacking and he openly exposes those who place capitalism above true democracy. The result is interesting and well-argued. And it appears, the sole reason this is rated "R" is that the word "fuck" is used three times.
What it is not is great cinema. If Moore had offered a time and place for congregation and rebellion, that would be one thing. As it is, it is quite safe to wait until this comes out on DVD. I write that as one who is writing because that is what I want to do with my life. I've already rejected the corporate machines. But if you haven't, perhaps it is time to get to a theater!
For other documentaries, please check out my reviews of:
The Cream Will Rise
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© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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