MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Documentary/ Stars: Michael Moore, Wallace Shawn/ Runtime: 127 minutes
In today’s rousing review of At the Movies, we are taking a look at noted documentary filmmaker Michael Moore as he once again takes a croquet mallet to some of society’s more complex issues in a documentary known as Capitalism: A Love Story. Indeed this is a film that chooses to put a magnifying glass, with varying degrees of both harshness and comedy, the spine of the late 2000’s financial system in the United States. Indeed long considered one of the world of filmmaking’s more controversial individuals, the long-time resident of Flint, Michigan known just as much for his casual fashion sense, and his iconic baseball cap as he is for his divisive and take-no-prisoners takes on everything from the healthcare to firearms industries has now set his sights on the United States’ system of capitalism. Indeed often adored by the left, and crucified by the right, Moore has never been one to hesitate showing his own point of view through his filmography, but at least he does insert them in films that are both extremely well put-together and quite often very engaging in how it is delivered to an audience even if every person in said audience may not agree at any time with any point that he chooses to deliver. Though to be fair I do believe that an individual’s set of beliefs have always been on hand to influence pretty much any movie that the viewer chooses to watch. With this film however, the ball is in Moore’s court to deliver a quality product to movie goers who may or may not have made up their minds even before sitting down to watch. Thus from an objective, mid-way perspective, as you have come to expect from me over the course of over 200 reviews for this site, the question becomes: does Moore triumph in getting his message across in a manner that will persuade even his harshest critic, keep the faith with his supporters, and actually convince the middle of the road people like myself that his side is “right”? As always with Moore, who most certainly has never been one to make things easy for himself, the answer is both yes and no.
The “plot” is as follows: Capitalism: A Love Story is a deep examination into quite a few of the conundrums that Michael Moore views as ailments to the financial system here in the United States, but also just what kind of menace the continued existence of these ailments presents to the working-class here in the United States who is simply trying to get by despite continual threat of their home being foreclosed, their job being lost, or other misfortunes. Now Moore chooses to begin the film by showing a slightly humorous, but also, in some people’s eyes, relevant compare and contrast in the fall of the Roman Empire and, what we know now to be true, the imminent collapse of the economy of America. From that point on, Moore attempts to showcase how the major banks and corporations in this country are continually screwing over the working class in a variety of different ways, some more insidious than others with the ultimate hope being that by the end of the film you will see, according to Moore, the “dire evils of capitalism firsthand” (whether you do or not though is entirely subjective and up to each and every one of you personally).
Now if there was a single thing that both people who enjoy and criticize his work could potentially reach an agreement on, it would have to be the fact that Michael Moore really has come into his own as a maker of documentaries. Indeed his pictures may possess a distinct bent all his own, but Moore nevertheless still does an admirable job at really focusing on this material and not only bringing current issues to light and the history on just how we got to this point, but also by providing the material with a distinct yet individualistic touch by showing this issue through the perspective of those who have been directly impacted by whatever issue he is analyzing. In addition, Moore, through his filmed projects, also showcases a terrific comprehension in regards to the process of making a film in the first place. Indeed they are quite well put-together, very thought-provoking, and always guaranteed to get some kind of response from anyone who watches it. Yet although Moore is an expert at making these kinds of movies, he does have a distinct….flaw that really holds him back from being truly iconic. The flaw in question would have to be the fact that there are a lot of times where, in my opinion mind you, Moore can be sometimes a tad amount too much of a manipulator especially when it comes at the cost of his film’s concepts and main ideas. Now I am not saying that we should call into question his right to believe the things he chooses to believe nor should we call into question either his comprehension of this material or his gift of giving audiences a film that is personal and potent in equal measure. No what I am choosing to call into question is why Moore chooses to go farther than he has to, and insert into his films, a degree of material that is both ridiculous and forced and not needed to get his point across. For example, in this film Moore chooses to play fast and loose with comparing Bush riding a bike during the financial crisis to Nero fiddling while Rome burned to the ground. Thus instead of just backing up what he is trying to tell the audience with solid fact, Moore instead makes the choice to poke fun at a serious problem by showing the President either relaxing or spending time with guests, a thing that coincidentally every President has been “guilty as charged” of doing, rather than show him working hard in the Oval Office. To top if off, Moore doesn’t show footage of Ronald Reagan riding a horse, Clinton performing on his saxophone, or even Obama playing basketball anywhere in the movie even though each of those Presidents did those things while President and also during times of crisis in this country. Thus this “key moment” really comes across more as a cheap shot across the bow rather than as something that is supposed to be remarkably relevant to what Moore is trying to get across, and as such, also functions as an example of just how overzealous Moore can get in his attempts to get the audience to side with him, even if it means tossing the more significant issues at play onto the bonfire.
It is also worth mentioning that the title of this film is also a double entendre that would make the early Bond films proud. Indeed Capitalism: A Love Story is not just a reference to the Wall Street honchos love for the system, but it also is using the word love in a sarcastic and cynical manner when looking at all the people whose lives are destroyed by that very same system. With that aside however, this documentary manages to run with more of a solemn manner; a solemnity that is shared by Moore who chooses to utilize a quite monotone style in his voiceover narration. Yet in this go around, Moore is not the star of the film, and the key positive that this has going for it is not in his analysis of the corporate head honchos, and the history of the rollercoaster ride that America’s capitalist system has gone on Since World War Two. Instead the key positive that this film has going for it is in the narratives being told with equal parts heart and soul by the people that Moore interviews in the film even though their narratives are all emotionally hard to sit through. Indeed regardless of the points that he chooses to make, it is my distinct opinion that it is in the act of concentrating on the everyday person that really makes this film. Plus by negating a vibe that makes it seem like this more daytime television rather than informational, Moore is able to make a lot of valid points especially on stuff that might have been more under the radar as compared to the material that dominated the headlines back when this film was first released. Indeed these mini-narratives therefore aren’t exactly the movie’s spine, but they are the best reinforcement Moore could ask for. It is tragic therefore to note that this film, even though it is only a few minutes shy of being over 2 hours long, still seems too long for its own good. Indeed this is a film which acquires and then drastically loses its momentum with startling frequency, and with all the material and ideas being presented, it really does seem like Moore is utilizing a “sledgehammer” style towards criticizing the system rather than maybe doing so with a little bit more delicateness and finesse. Finally, I feel that Moore also manages to do a brilliant job at inserting some comedy into the film thus showing that even Moore knows how to look for a sense of humor in the more dire circumstances; a fact that I bring up if only because I definitely feel that in some ways this documentary definitely could have used a tad more comedy rather than the overabundance of doom and gloom that the audience acquires instead.
All in all much in the same vein as the majority of Moore’s filmography, Capitalism: A Love Story is most certainly destined to split viewers in regards to how they feel about the content matter, and more often than not, it seems that this divide is one which can be found on the lines of political parties. However with that in mind, that is not saying that this movie or any of his others for that matter aren’t worth the time of day. Indeed this is because Moore still manages to create a movie that actually has the guts to challenge the economic system of America by choosing to concentrate on the opposing sides of the coin; both the well-to-do and the people whose lives are constantly upended by them without ever once showing a middle ground. With that being said, what Moore is able to conclude from all this is not exactly a jaw-dropping revelation and thus it really is up to each and every one of us to ponder if he managed to come to the right resolution upon viewing the film and not only look into these issues, but also, and just as important, into other crucial issues in order to draw your own conclusions. Indeed, from a technical standpoint, Capitalism: A Love Story may be crafted with skill albeit a bit too long, but Moore as usual showcases that he has a true grasp of what it takes to make an effective documentary film that he is most likely the envy of the vast majority of his fellow filmmakers. Regardless of that fact though, it is nevertheless my distinct view that Capitalism: A Love Story is still worth a watch regardless of your political convictions. On a scale of 1-5 I give Capitalism: A Love Story a solid 3.5 out of 5.