Money talks – Capitalism: A Love Story review

Capitalism: A Love Story. Directed by Michael Moore. Rated M. Originally published November 3, 2009. By Simon Miraudo.

Michael Moore, the documentarian, is manipulative, exploitative, self-aggrandising, and sometimes flat out incorrect. On the other hand, Michael Moore, the filmmaker, is funny, explosive, entertaining and always manages to find the emotional truth at the core of his subjects. Critics and fans alike have been wrestling with this dichotomy for the past two decades; each side of Moore threatening to discredit the other. Capitalism: A Love Story is unlikely to settle this debate. The director’s latest project claims to examine the financial credit crisis that sent shockwaves throughout the world. Of course, that’s just the entry point. As with all of Moore’s films, this is really about the fall of The American Dream, with Moore acting as our tour guide into the rotten core of his beloved country. And once again, his heart is in the right place. If only he could keep his ego out of it.

Growing up, I will admit, this man was my hero. I savoured every one of his pictures, including 1989’s Roger and Me, 2003’s Bowling for Columbine and 2004’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (which I saw three times in cinemas). I relished his television program The Awful Truth and I devoured all of his books. He introduced me to issues that I previously wouldn’t have blinked an eyelid at and he helped me develop a social conscience. His movies not only made me want to be a better person, but also made me demand a better world. They also temporarily turned me into a self-righteous pinko who had no qualms about making others feel bad for having a different set of ideologies to mine. Thankfully, it turned out to be just a phase, like Pokémon. Looking back on his films, I can acknowledge that there are some downright cringe-worthy moments that are embarrassing in their manipulative execution. So I view each new film by Moore with trepidation. Inside of me, fighting to be heard is both an emotional teenager and an adult who knows better.

Hmmm. If we’ve learnt anything from this review so far, it is that I have more in common with Moore than I’d like to admit; specifically, an obsession with talking about myself instead of the issue at hand. I apologise. Perhaps I’m dodging the film because it’s difficult to know how to come at it. After all, Capitalism: A Love Story comes at you; it doesn’t sit there waiting to be reviewed. I wish that I could examine this movie as an objective observer, but there is no room here for anything close to objectivity. Moore’s films are made to be viewed by fans, enemies, victims and criminals. Categorise yourself accordingly.

The basic thesis of Capitalism: A Love Story is that the American people have been betrayed by their Government, who are blinded by their own greed and their allegiances to the higher ups on Wall Street. Moore introduces us to a few middle-to-lower class families who paid the price for the greed of others. We meet an elderly couple unceremoniously kicked out of their home, and in a final humiliation, hired by the Government to take all their belongings to a dump. We sympathise with a young widow, whose husband’s death earned his employers almost $5 million in life insurance. And in the film’s most triumphant sequence, we watch as a group of factory workers revolt against their unfair dismissal and stage a sit-down strike. Moore, regardless of his own financial situation, has always championed the little guy, and for once, doesn’t try to pretend he is still one of them. In fact, the film’s running joke is that he must constantly deal with the fact that he is one of the most recognisable faces in America. He steps back from the limelight, and even cuts down on the doorstop intrusions (!) to let regular Americans tell their tragic stories.

Sadly, there are two films at war here. The first is a documentary, featuring the aforementioned tales of struggling American families. The second is your traditional Michael Moore polemic, in which he deploys strategically cut stock-footage and comic digressions to sell his opinion rather than discover the truth. In his previous pictures, he weaved these two elements seamlessly (and perhaps dangerously) making him possibly the most divisive filmmaker of the 21st century. In Capitalism, he has split himself in two as a means of appeasing both his fans and critics; to make it easier for them to distinguish between Fact and Fun. Of course, what good is Michael Moore if he can’t generate controversy and conversation? Love him or hate him, his films have been the cause of some electric discussions. I fear that if he acquiesces further and keeps on trying to please everyone, we will lose an important filmmaker.

The film has its flaws, a couple of half-truths and some maddening digressions (he asks Priests whether capitalism is a sin, in a sequence sure to lead both believers and atheists to squirm). Michael Moore will never be Errol Morris or Ken Burns. Viewers are aware that he is trying to manipulate them and the debate will continue to rage on over his qualifications as a documentarian. Moore knows that now, and he embraces it. He makes no apologies for his angry, passionate rants, and he’ll be damned if anyone tries to prove him wrong. But the core of his argument is sound: the American people deserve better. And no one argues as passionately, hilariously and heartbreakingly as Moore.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Capitalism: A Love Story arrives on DVD April 1st, 2010.

One Response to “Money talks – Capitalism: A Love Story review”

  1. wow. while i agree about the overall judgement of the movie, that was a terrible review. congratulations.

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