Last night I attended a press screening of Michael Moore’s new filmCapitalism: A Love Story. As with all of his films it made animmediate, strong impression on me and it also surprised me a little, mythoughts are below and yes, this contains some spoilers sobeware…
First off, the film in some ways made me realize how familiar MichaelMoore’s filmmaking has become–this is arguably a detriment to hismessage and possibly a slight to his directorial prowess but as fan Ihave come to enjoy his usual gimmicks and this film is chock full ofthem:
The moving personal testimonials: Families recount learning thatcompanies had profited from large insurances policies taken out on theirtragically deceased loved ones–this sequence literally made me want tocall my Congressman to express my outrage.
The absurd/scary facts and figures: One particularly chillingsequence explores how woefully underpaid, overworked and thereforeunreliable our nation’s commercial airline pilots are. If you’recurrently afraid of flying this portion of the film won’t do you anyfavors.
The brilliant, adept use of vintage documentary footage: Mooreprobably puts classic clips to better use in this film that in any ofhis previous work–the highlight for me being a brilliant deconstructionof Reaganism–if you didn’t hate The Gipper before this film, you willafterwards.
Moore showing up at office buildings trying to get bigwigs to talk oncamera: In my opinion, the most played out of the director’s schtick.It worked better in Roger & Me when he really was a nobody butnow you get the feeling the people at GM have an actual securityprocedure to enact whenever Moore shows up.
In addition to all the usual stylistic choices though is the element toall Moore’s films which is often overlooked–their inherent optimism. Innearly every one of his films Moore hits you over the head with hisall-American biography, his seemingly idyllic childhood in 1950s-eraFlint, Michigan. To his credit in this film, he’s careful to point outthat this period was not ideal for everyone (i.e. Black people) but heclearly believes that America was once great and he is first andforemost a patriot who wants to see the country return to its FDR-eraheyday.
His brilliance is often in these moments which almost always come at ornear the end of his films. He makes you laugh, cry, thoroughly depressesyou and then wins you over with some form of uplift. Despite some of the most relentlessly disheartening scenes I’ve ever seen in a documentary film,I came out of Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko amped up and readyto take on…well somebody. The problem with Capitalism is thatits weakest moments are in its dénouement. It’s still a great film, don’tget me wrong. But I felt really ambivalent at the end, even Moorehimself sounds tired, a little withdrawn. The film very effectivelycommunicates that blood is on both Republican and Democratic hands whenit comes to our nation’s economic collapse. Chris Dodd comes off almostas badly as Hank Paulson. And while Obama is mostly handled with kidgloves (a glaring oversight, sure to draw partisan attacks from theright) I walked away from this film feeling like financial reform willbe even more difficult to achieve than healthcare reform–that theinterests who want to see the status quo maintained are so much moreentrenched and that the lessons of the last thirty years haven’t beenlearned at all.
Moore seems to want to convince that there’s a light at the end of thetunnel but this time I just don’t believe him–even though I want to.His argument that the victory of the Republic Windows and Doors workers coupled with Obama’s election represent a rebellion against capitalism just don’t hold up. And let’s face it, his other films’ warnings were not heeded. Instead of being emboldened I felt a little hopeless afterthe credits rolled. But I also kind of wanted to see the film again.
Editor’s Note: Stay tuned this week for a Q&A between author Naomi Klein and Michael Moore, appearing exclusively on TheNation.com