Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story fits right in with the rest of director’s work, almost too snugly; he covers a lot of the same ground here as he has in other, better films, and his filmmaking is at its most scattershot and lazy.
Yet I begrudgingly give it a pass because I agree with most all of what is said here (politics aside) and it’s neatly packaged, ultra-relevant infotainment that Moore can deliver to the masses like few documentarians before him.
So I recommend the film, but not before you see these ones: Roger & Me, Moore’s first, and Bowling for Columbine, his best; and these two that cover the same ground as Capitalism in much better detail: Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott’s massively enlightening The Corporation, and Chris Smith’s Collapse, which plainly describes the current state of the global economy and lays out Michael Ruppert’s harrowing, apocalyptic view of the future (hint: start stockpiling those seeds).
But back to Capitalism: Moore is always at his best when contrasting the plight of the working man against the spoils of big business, and he’s got plenty of material in this economic climate.
We meet: Peter Zalewski of Condo Vultures, a firm that delivers recently-foreclosed homes to bottom feeders looking to make a quick buck; the employees of Republic Windows & Doors in Chicago, who were fired and unpaid when their company decided union workers were too expensive; Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, the hero of Flight 1549, and other pilots whose pay have been drastically reduced (one takes a second job waitressing); and PA Child Care, a juvenile correction facility that bribed judges to send them kids, netting them millions in tax dollars.
The most harrowing, perhaps, are the life insurance policies corporations take out on their employees, like the one that nets Walmart $81,000 when one of their former cake decorators passes away, while the family is left with mounds of debt under medical bills. Or Amegy Bank, who made $1.5 million when Irma Johnson’s husband died of cancer. The corporations have a name for these policies: Dead Peasant Insurance.
With decidedly less success, Moore also delves into politics and economics, Wall Street and Washington. There are all the usual suspects: Chris Dodd, Henry Paulson, Reagan, Bush, AIG, Goldman Sachs, and the infamous secret CitiBank memo.
The director doesn’t bring much new to the table here, and he won’t be winning any converts during these segments. Moore is also known for his gimmicky stunts, which make a brief appearance as he wraps crime scene tape around Wall Street institutions, tries to make a citizen’s arrest at AIG headquarters, and tries to get into the GM building, just like he did 20 years ago in Roger & Me.
Nothing nearly as memorable as what he’s done before. Moore is always attacked as a left-wing propagandist, but his political status rarely overtly rears its face in his feature films (save for the wisely aborted Captain Mike Across America); that’s unfortunately not the case in Capitalism, and towards the end we’re treated to a lovey-dovey Obama montage that threatens to sink the whole movie.
Luckily, Moore pulls out his best material to save it: footage of Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivering a piece of his State of the Union address months before his death. In it, he calls for a Second Bill of Rights that would guarantee Americans the rights to a decent life: a job, a home, an education, health care. 65 years later, and Americans are still waiting for these rights. Incredibly, this footage – thought to be lost – was unseen for those 65 years until Moore apparently re-discovered it.
This scene alone holds a kind of power that makes Capitalism worth seeing. It might otherwise be a documentary praised more for its intent than actual craft, but you’ll leave it feeling something.