Michael Moore's new film, Capitalism: A Love Story comes almost on the heels of 2007's SiCKO. While SiCKO proved to be a very efficacious film that exposed the evils of the health care industry, in telling stories and showing surveillance footage of patients getting dumped off at free clinics courtesy of cab rides kindly paid by hospitals such as Kaiser Permanente, Capitalism may not prove to be as catalytic as Fahrenheit 9/11 or even Bowling For Columbine.
Moore's latest effort, while it features flashes of the beloved liberal activist we've come to know and love, plainly wasn't going for as many laughs as usual yet it suffers from a lack of focus and inspiration that made him the most successful and wealthiest documentarian in Hollywood history.
Capitalism starts off with home video footage of a North Carolina family getting evicted from their home, to be followed up by an Illinois family suffering the same fate. Moore traces our ongoing, if soured, love affair with the capitalism that's been hyped up by corporate titans as something in which we can all share.
Citing his personal experience with America the way it was during the post war boom of the Eisenhower years, Moore reminds us how life in America used to be: The husband and father going to work while Mom stayed home. If she wanted to work, she could but not because she had to. Dad worked his way toward a pension and could look forward to his golden years without anxiety.
Then about thirty years ago, something happened: That something was Ronald Reagan, a union-busting, New School Republican who proved to be the antithesis of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the last Republican president we ever had who not only had good, populist ideas but one who actually took his nation's prosperity to heart.
While Nixon, Kaiser and Ehrlichman were fingered in SiCKO as being the culprits in the disastrous privatization of the health care industry, Reagan came in with Regan and his axe man David Stockman and finished what Nixon only started. In short order, Reagan smashed PATCO and other unions, cut the income tax rate in half for the very wealthiest and started a deregulatory orgy that transformed America from a three-tiered economy to a two-tiered economy: The wealthy and the poor.
No doubt, Capitalism will stir some anger and resentment, especially when Moore goes into the specifics of the bailout bill. But Moore for once merely rehashes over what well-informed liberals already know, such as all the Goldman Sachs alumni who'd eventually come to infest the Treasury Dept. Even worse, Moore continues to insist that the bailout bill was the "mere" $700 billion that the MSM dutifully and robotically tells us it was. The total bailout, when one factors in the trillions more poured into foreign and domestic banks by the Federal Reserve, which alone could easily support a two hour Moore documentary, brings the total taxpayer tab to several trillions more.
He takes a few swipes at George W. Bush, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. He even briefly mentions the FOA sweetheart deals given to senior senators such as Christopher Dodd courtesy of Angelo Mozillo. Then the movie ends, with all the implicated players seemingly let off the hook.
Capitalism, as stated before, isn't played for laughs, although there are a few moments of dark humor aided by Moore's trademark usage of public domain file footage. At one point, Moore is even stopped about 70 feet from the lobby of a bailed-out bank by an overzealous security officer who kept putting his hand over the camera lens.
Moore, to his credit, doesn't end his documentary on a hopeless note. He returns to the Republic Door Factory in Chicago that was taken over by recently laid off workers who were rooked out of their severance pay by Bank of America when they yanked Republic's line of credit. He showed us the Cook County sheriff who refused to evict people from their homes in that same city and even showed us the successful efforts of a family squatting in their own foreclosed home.
But the well-informed already know this. Moore's appeal and popularity had always depended on being one step ahead of us and ingeniously synthesizing hard investigative journalism, a keen eye for history with entertainment no matter how grim the news or dire the results. There's little of that in Capitalism and those who see it may derive the sense that it will prove to be far less efficacious than his earlier, more successful efforts.
And let's not forget, Michael Moore has a miserable track record in terms of efficacy. GM still filed for bankruptcy and people lost their jobs, gun sales are still going through the roof, George W. Bush was able to steal another election and we're no closer to getting actual health care reform today than we've been over the last 45 years.
The toll on Moore is showing. At the end of the movie he wearily says, "I can't do this anymore," and called for his fans to get more involved, a theme that we've been hearing from Moore for weeks. This could easily be Michael Moore's last documentary. If that's true, it's a shame that he couldn't go out with a bigger bang.