If you’re looking for even handed and maturely nuanced debate, if you’re looking for objectivity, multifaceted perspectives and intelligent arguments unencumbered by sentiment and emotion, then steer clear of the films of veteran rabble-rouser Michael Moore, whose penchant for fire and brimstone documentary journalism burns ever-undulled in Capitalism: A Love Story. But if you’re looking for provocative and compelling non-fiction oozing with take-the-power-back polemic and fiery antiestablishmentarism look no further than the flabby cap-donning working man’s hero from Flint, Michigan, who has built a career on taking the Darryl Kerrigan mantra to big corporations and telling them (with slightly more robust vernacular) ta get stuffed.
In all of Moore’s work the message is there, simmering between the lines: capitalism is bad, mmkay? Having directed films for two decades and now with eight feature docos under his (wider than average) belt, Moore appears to have had enough. Now he’s just coming out and saying it, no pussyfooting around, no reading between the lines, no diluting the message and woe betide you if you don’t like it: capitalism = evil.
Moore has always been a self-righteous sermon on the mount expostulator, subtle as a pig at a tea party. His critics tsk-tsk about his tendency to draw tenuous links between case studies, to err closer to emotion than fact and to cagily select what to spotlight and what to omit. He takes it to conservative forces, fighting fire with fire, sometimes getting flakes of his own integrity caught in the crosshairs.
It’s hard however, especially for those who lean to the left, not to agree with the long and short of his hypothesises – i.e. that the U.S. health care system is horrible and ravaged (Sicko), American gun laws are dangerous and inhumane (Bowling for Columbine) and the Bush administration were a pack of mongrels and thieves (Fahrenheit 9/11). Capitalism: A Love Story presents Moore’s broadest assertion yet: that capitalism is if not downright evil then certainly corrosive, immoral, punishing to the small guys and about as appealing as a fart in a sleeping bag. Again it’s kinda hard to disagree with his basic stance even if most viewers (not unreasonably) will probably wrap a devil-you-know context around the debate in absence of a clear workable alternative. Moore paints an important distinction between democracy and capitalism, arguing that one can and should exist without the other. Like a lot of the material here (such as an intriguing segment about a democratically operated company where all workers own an equal share and take a part in the decision making) this begs to be further extrapolated.
Moore’s sprawling scattershot approach in Capitalism: A Love Story feels like he set out to make a film about the GFC but decided somewhere along the line to train his sights on a much larger beast. Thus the film’s disjointed structure connects case studies – all of them interesting, a few of them fascinating – sometimes spuriously to the grander concept.
Moore demonstrates his sizeable abilities as a muckraker/investigative journalist by uncovering some truly shocking stuff: big corporations such as Woolworths, for example, take out life insurance policies on their employees so they can cash in when they die, the people referred to in paperwork as “dead peasants.” It’s also staggering to learn that commercial airline pilots in America get paid pittance (around $20k a year) and would earn more as managers of Taco Bell. There are plenty more eye-opening moments, including a snippet of Ronald Reagan getting ordered around by a corporate big wig and seldom seen footage of Roosevelt’s suggestion of a second bill of rights, in relation to housing and jobs etcetera. It never, of course, came to fruition. Bummer. Bizarrely, Moore also interviews actor Wallace Shawn, who is particularly well remembered for the switcheroo poison wine scene in The Princess Bride and who has absolutely nothing to do with anything.
Moore is the closest cinema has to blockbuster documentary director. His films are loud, ballsy, instantly palatable and designed for the masses, but more than that they are event movies, pics that loom large on the cultural horizon and attempt to set or influence political agendas. The argument that Moore’s career is built on preaching to the converted is untrue, his audience well and truly large enough to encapsulate plenty of sceptics and naysayers (probably a decent selection of babies and barn animals too). Bowling for Columbine is still Moore’s pièce de résistance; it ties the staple properties together so smoothly: a powerful emotional crux, alarming facts, compelling case studies, a clear-cut argument. Capitalism: A Love Story is nevertheless a solid addition to his body of work, a vintage Michael Moore exposé that fits his battlin’-for-the-small-guys shtick like a glove.
Capitalism: A Love Story’s Australian theatrical release date: November 5, 2009