By DAVID TINDELL
Even since the late 1980s, Michael Moore has found himself sarcastically and ironically conflicted by the underlying consequences of the American way of life. So far, Moore has most notoriously challenged our 2nd Amendment culture in “Bowling for Columbine” (2002), our former president in “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004), and our health-care system in “Sicko” (2007). As If his body of work hasn’t pointed enough fingers at the right already, “Capitalism: A Love Story” (released Oct. 2) points one Moore at corporate America.
Despite the name, “Capitalism” fights the banking industry and confronts the current economic crisis more than the idea of capitalism. The initial thesis of the movie is nothing new to anyone who has watched MTV’s “Cribs,” VH1’s “The Fabulous Life Of,” or read an excerpt from Forbes Magazine. Most Americans have very little compared to the super rich. However, “Capitalism” gives this idea scope.
For example, the movie produces an internal Citibank report which agreeably states that the United States is a “plutonomy” (rule by the wealthy) where the top one percent (3 million) of the population controls more financial wealth than the bottom 95 percent (285 million).
In regards to style, “Capitalism” keeps to Moore tradition. Just like “Bowling for Columbine” and “Sicko”, “Capitalism” begins with ordinary people getting their homes repossesed, followed by unashamed real estate agents who exclusively make profits on their foreclosures.
Michael Moore even cuts to his home movies again, showing his first family vacation to New York to see Wall Street. However, “Capitalism’s” constant transitioning among interviews, reporting and polemic is less smooth then on either “Fahrenheit 9/11” or “Sicko.”
“Capitalism” is the first time Moore throws religion in the political mix though. Moore brings up his own spiritual beliefs as a Catholic to question whether Jesus would belong to a hedge fund or sell short. His conclusion, which seems to add a moral center of gravity to his idea, is that “you can’t call yourself a capitalist and a Christian, because you cannot love your money and love your neighbor.”
The least impressive development in “Capitalism” is the excessive emotional appeal Moore frequently uses. As effective as shots of crying children are to the sounds of a violin, Moore’s attempts to manipulate audiences are more insulting than persuading. Audiences do need to understand the gravity of our capitalist catastrophe, but human-interest stories are only so effective. One reason that “Sicko” was considered politically ineffective was because Moore similarly gives too many stories and not enough facts.
Not to say that all the personal accounts are useless. One striking story involved judges who were bribed to send as many juvenile offenders as possible to detention centers, some for offenses as trivial as mocking an assistant principal on MySpace. To his credit, Moore also spent more time allowing public outbursts of frustration speak for themselves rather than allot excessive time intervening into the action like he did in “Sicko.”
Additionally, “Capitalism” carries with it the same hard-hitting wit we should expect from Moore. He begins the movie with a thoughtful interpretation of our current state of despair next to the fall of ancient Rome. This leads to the big question, “What will our civilization be remember for centuries after our demise?” Then Moore cuts to the proposal between funny cat videos or forced evictions resulting from the mortgage crisis. Moore’s rhetorical devices both entertain and enlighten.
Moore ends the movie promising, “I refuse to live in a country like this, and I’m not leaving.” No matter how the movie compares to their predecessors, “Capitalism: A Love Story” once again proves Michael Moore will never learn when to stop documenting the American nightmare.