Directed by Michael Moore. Rated R (for some language). 120 minutes.
It’s not quite clear who is supposed to be in love in Michael Moore’s new “docutribe” CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY. Is it Washington and Wall Street? Is it bankers and money? It’s certainly not the people who have lost their jobs or their homes in the current economic crunch. As with “Bowling for Columbine,” “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko,” Moore picks his targets and then skewers them with a mixture of humor, pathos and righteous indignation.
Films like this are usually called “documentaries,” but that carries the implication of unbiased reporting. Of course, all non-fiction films can be said to have biases and agendas. Moore is just more blatant about it. Politically, he is left-wing (as opposed to liberal), providing a much-needed balance to the multiple right-wing talking heads who dominate what passes for public debate. Take his films not as news stories but as polemics, where Moore goes in arguing the correctness of his point of view.
This time out, he’s looking at the 2008 financial collapse and its aftermath. He notes that the banks got bailed out but those tax dollars were more likely to go to executive bonuses than to helping people from losing their homes. He covers a sit-in protest in Chicago where a major bank pulled the plug on a company, leaving them unable to pay off their now ex-employees. The ex-employees fought back, getting backing from local politicians and the Catholic Church. They won the money, but not their jobs.
What really angers Moore is the way the government continually rolls over for big business, pointing the finger at the investment house of Goldman Sachs, which seems to have a revolving door for their executives who take jobs regulating the very industry they left. As one might imagine, their sympathies are elsewhere are not with the general public. In one incredible interview, the woman in charge of the Congressional office overseeing the bailout admits she has no means to demand that the recipients disclose what they did with the money. She’s frustrated but Moore wants us to be outraged.
Of course there’s also the grandstanding we expect in a Moore film. He spends too much time showing him and his camera crew being barred from office buildings. One wonders if a camera crew doing a critical movie on him showed up at his offices unannounced whether he would act any differently. He does know how to provoke, however, ending the film with a presidential speech by Franklin Roosevelt calling for an economic bill of rights, almost daring the rightwingers to denounce it as “socialism” as, in fact, they did more than sixty years ago.
Take “Capitalism: A Love Story” with a grain of salt, and seek out reactions from thoughtful economists, business people, and others to gauge how much merit his argument has. Those engaging in redbaiting or who wonder why Moore doesn’t leave America if he hates it so much are doing worse than namecalling. By refusing to engage the substance of the film, they’re conceding that he may be right.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.