Monday, October 05, 2009

REVIEW: Capitalism: A Love Story

Michael Moore may be many different things to many different people, but what sets him apart among documentary filmmakers is, he's funny.

While his movies usually have serious underpinnings, what has made him popular over the years is his sense of humor, whether he's trying to get a meeting with a GM chairman or whether he explains the history of firearms through an animated cartoon.

What makes his latest film, Capitalism: A Love Story such a strange animal is that it's best when Moore's not trying to be funny. Sure, we get footage of Moore's antics, and many of them did make me laugh, such as his trying crime scene type around the offices of megabanks in Manhattan.

The parts of the movie that stayed with me the most, however, were the ones in which Moore wasn't smiling. I was astounded to see he found the footage of FDR's final State of the Union address,  in which the president proposed  a "second bill of rights" to necessities like health care and a decent job. FDR died not long after making the speech, so his vision never came to pass.

Then there are more contemporary stories Moore tells, like the ones at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago, who fought their layoffs by sitting in at their factory until they finally won their case.

It's in these moments that the film makes its greatest impact, by showing what can be done when people take a stand, and what people can achieve when they're more forward thinking.

Some readers may roll their eyes at Moore, noting his leftist bent and his tendency to play fast and loose with the facts. But some of those same people may be surprised to see Moore take a few swipes at the left. He comes down especially hard on Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd, whom he sees as very much in bed with the bankers. And he's merciless with Congress as a whole for agreeing to the bailouts at all.

As blunt as he can be, Moore's approach is sometimes a bit scattershot. A few scenes where he talks economics with actor Wallace Shawn are amusing but inessential to the whole. The film could stand some trimming to make its argument more cohesive, and more powerful.

Moore's decrying of capitalism as an immoral system may be a bit overstated, but the movie does highlight what I believe to be a central problem of American life, and not just of our economy.

Too many of us are afflicted with tunnel vision in which we only consider short-term benefits and we give short shrift to long-run consequences  that sort of thinking has marred everything from Hollywood to Wall Street. Capitalism: A Love Story asks us to look ahead, and to take action – and that's a point worth hearing whether one thinks Moore is funny or not.

NOTE: For a more formal look at the current economic boondoggle, see the  insightful and sobering I.O.U.S.A., streaming for Netflix members.


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