Entertaining "Capitalism" makes it point but lacks fresh ideas
You never know what you're getting into with a Michael Moore film. The director of such documentaries as "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Bowling for Columbine" knows how to stir up trouble in a New York minute, and his new documentary "Capitalism: A Love Story" takes square aim at the evils of an age-old American ideal known as capitalism, or the free market system. Entertaining, disturbing but overlong and overly simplistic, Moore's target this time, unlike health care, politics or gun control, seems a bit more than even he can handle. Whether you agree with him or not is one thing, but it is fun to watch him in action.
“Capitalism: A Love Story” explores a taboo question: What is the price that America pays for its love of capitalism? Years ago, that love seemed so innocent. Today, however, the American dream is looking more like a nightmare as families pay the price with their jobs, their homes and their savings. Moore takes us into the homes of ordinary people whose lives have been turned upside down; and he goes looking for explanations in Washington, DC and elsewhere. What he finds are the all-too-familiar symptoms of a love affair gone astray: lies, abuse, betrayal...and thousands of jobs being lost every day.
According to Moore, capitalism is an evil that should be replaced with democracy, a prickly idea that’s idea to stir up more controversy, something the popular documentary filmmaker is familiar with. As typical with his films, Moore examines what’s wrong with many of our American ideals. Slickly edited and featuring colorful visuals, the first half of “Capitalism” is better as it explores a handful of disturbing but accepted practices by many U.S. companies, including taking out life insurance policies on their employees and then profiting from it upon their death, once instance in which Amegy Bank profited $5 million from one employee’s death.
He spends the latter half of the film detailing the $700 billion economic bailout of 2008 and how it benefited such companies as Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, not to mention the unethical practices of such companies as Countrywide that contributed to the bailout. The bailout, still fresh on people’s minds, has been so well-documented that much of it is repetitive.
Moore is most poignant when he looks at specific case studies of what’s gone wrong. How Wal-Mart profited $81,000 from the death of one young woman; the aforementioned Amegy bank employee whose death earned the company millions or a couple unfairly evicted from their home; even Moore’s own Dad is interviewed to explain how things have changed in the Flint/Detroit area with the collapse of GM. Some will spark outrage, others may inspire, such as the group of employees in Chicago who stood their ground last winter after being laid-off and eventually won a settlement, or the few co-ops who run their businesses democratically where everyone has a vote.
But there are a few flaws with Moore’s approach in “Capitalism.” First, as entertaining as it is to see Moore roll out crime scene tape around such companies as B of A, Chase and Goldman Sachs and then walk up and demand bailout money back, it doesn’t provide insight on what his plan would be, except to “replace capitalism with democracy,” an idea that could at its worst, put millions out of work. Second, it’s a big oversimplification to blame much of this on the Reagan and Bush administrations (the latter coming as no surprise), when really the expanding U.S. government’s reliance on big corporate lobbyists the real problem. Third, his interviews with many politicians veer toward the one-sided, as he interviews a spate of congressman who agree with him but none who disagree with him (not that any Republicans would agree to be interviewed by Moore anyway).
Moore’s real plan is to inspire enough to rally the troops around changing what seems to be a broken system, a decent but overly idealistic idea. This is especially so in “Capitalism’s” overlong, ponderous second act, when he inserts a long, unnecessary FDR clip espousing the “Second Bill of Rights” and spends an inordinate amount of time explaining the differences between democracy and socialism rather than providing new ideas. We get the point: the system is broken, now how do we fix it?
“Capitalism: A Love Story” is entertaining and often compelling, particularly in its first half, before it bombastically rolls into its bailout-heavy second half. It lacks fresh ideas and details, except maybe to share in the millions that Moore will likely earn from the film.