Sunday, October 11, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story (***)

Produced, Written, and Directed by Michael Moore


Michael Moore is mad as fuck, and he's not going to take it anymore. He's taken his bazookas and ICBMs, and he's pointing them square into the face of the American economy--or more specifically, our economic system: capitalism. The ultimate showman, Moore has pulled out all the stops with his latest film, Capitalism: A Love Story, and crafted what is perhaps the angriest movie he's ever produced. A combination of stock footage, senatorial interviews, good ol' American history, and the usual touch of humor comprise this riotous piece which is made for the American worker, but completely against the American CEO (who may end of being the biggest "American" of them all).

As the film opens, we learn the history and culture of the Roman Empire: an empire comprised of excess and debauchery, usually visualized in the history books through the immense violence of the Colosseum and the perversions of its many corrupt emperors. Moore inter-cuts this narrated history with images of modern America, an empire which was, until recently, visualized by the faces of George Bush (Jr. & Sr.) and Ronald Reagan. An empire that contributed to the de-regulation of Wall Street and banking, which allowed the the richest 1% of America to make more money than the bottom 95% combined. Our leaders, this sequence suggests, were not unlike the rambunctious Romans, with their insufferable need to have more.

It is that sequence which cements the tone of Capitalism, and that tone never lets up. Throughout the film, Moore narrates with his soft, lullaby voice, showing various aspects of the crumbling working class. We see a family who films themselves as seven police cars drive into their driveway and break down their doors to evict them. We see a family being forced to throw out all of their own belongings, in order to get a $1,000 check from the bank (so they could at least have something, since they have nowhere to go). We also hear from Airline pilots who get paid less than $18 thousand dollars a year, and need to pick up food stamps between flights.

How do all of these horrors occur? Moore sees various reasons, most of them influenced by the greed of unregulated Wall Street brokers. We are shown how various big-time companies take out life insurance policies on there employees so they can cut a paycheck if they die (this is known, poetically, as the 'Dead Peasants' policy). We are introduced to the concept of "derivatives", which is never clearly explained (Moore asks several experts who can never come up with a comprehensive definition), but is explained basically as a running gamble throughout Wall Street betting that your home will be foreclosed. How are things like this legal? Well, it's easy when some of the heads of these companies are rubbing shoulders with the president.

Moore is despised by many for not being fair and balanced, and he has welcomed that criticism. Some of his actions are questionable--who really cares what Wallace Shawn thinks is happening to the American economy?--but his motives always seem to be for the people. His views have expanded with each film. Roger & Me dealt strictly with how his town of Flint, MI was devastated by the closing of a General Motors factory. Bowling For Columbine attacked the gun crisis. Fahrenheit 9/11 tried to take down the Bush administration. SiCKO tried to convince America to reform its Healthcare policy. Each consecutive film, each encompassing a wider concept, and each possessing a Michael Moore who is more and more grumpy.

Capitalism is his most irate and savage. Throughout the film, Moore advocates fighting and action--not physical fighting, but intellectual. The film interviews Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur, who advises those who are being foreclosed to not leave their homes, because the banks cannot throw you out without the proper legal paperwork, and most of that paperwork has become snowed-in through all the Wall Street garble. There is also a sequence dedicated to a union stand-off, when a large group of laid-off factory workers in Chicago refused to leave the factory until they received the money they'd earned. They gained national publicity, and eventually got what little they had asked for.

Sure, the film has moments where Moore allows himself to become bigger than the message. It's definitely entertaining to watch Moore trying to arrest the CEOs of Goldman Sachs and other conglomerates, and it's a pleasure to see him wrap crime scene tape over all of the entrances to those headquarters' buildings. But none of those moments are as effective as when we see what is really happening: the families being forced out of their homes and employees being fired so the higher-ups can get a pay-raise. We are given a grave, televised address from Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who asks, a year before his death, to add a second Bill of Rights to the Constitution, which will guarantee livable wages and healthcare--things he felt were natural human rights. Things that the Founding Fathers really believed in.

There are many other topics discussed throughout Capitalism, including an excellent sequence of how Conservative pontificaters have used Jesus to push further their horribly misguided message (we're the side of God, so come follow us), but what the film mostly inspires is anger. It's hard not to get upset when you see some of things presented. I'll sum this review up by quoting one of my heroes--Roger Ebert--discussing the movie. Ebert wrote in his review of Capitalism: "Capitalism works great--when you have all the capital". And perhaps more effectively wrote later: "The film's title is never explained. What does Moore mean? Maybe it's that capitalism means never having to say you're sorry."

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