Capitalism: A Love Story opens Friday in select theaters
To summarize the sentiment fueling Michael Moore's latest agitprop, one need only quote Tony Montana: "You know what capitalism is? Gettin' f—ked!"
Capitalism: A Love Story is another entry in the Moore canon of dogmatic documentaries designed to purvey his brand of leftist populism. Whether that appeals to you or not always hinges on your political bent. Moore's admirers may believe that his point of view ought to be compelling to everyone—such people may want to ask themselves this question: If an entertaining, well-made and humorous documentary was produced to promote lax gun laws, the further privatization of health care and the huge bonuses given out on Wall Street, could you overlook your principles and enjoy the film as mere entertainment? Unlikely.
Moore himself understands his role as a polemicist. This is never more so than in Capitalism, which marks Moore's return to a subject he broached 20 years ago in his first feature film, Roger & Me. Indeed, like a comeback concert, Capitalism opens with Moore trotting out a few golden oldies: filleting Reaganomics, bemoaning the demise of his hometown of Flint, Mich., and taking another trek up to General Motors headquarters in a vain attempt to harangue anyone who's still left to turn out the lights.
Unlike Moore's most recent films, Capitalism is a broadside against the haves in the name of the have-nots, less focused on a single issue than an economic system that Moore pointedly brands "evil" and "immoral." For support, he employs the services of several Catholic priests, who heartily reiterate the church's longtime (and rather hypocritical) distain for the poverty inherently perpetuated within a capitalistic culture. It is Moore at his shrewdest, adopting one of movement conservatism's most favored weapons—religion—and wielding it jujitsu-style against them.
Moore also slyly outsources the job of proposing specific solutions to America's decadent financial framework to, of all people, Franklin D. Roosevelt. In researching this film, Moore discovered long-lost film footage of the portion of Roosevelt's 1944 State of the Union address—which the ailing president delivered from the White House—in which he proposes a second Bill of Rights guaranteeing all Americans, among other things, a home, a job with a living wage, education and medical care.
The address, which the original Great Communicator delivers with his renowned brogue, is the climax of Capitalism. For all of Moore's Marxist showboating, no more incendiary (or true, depending on your viewpoint) words are spoken throughout the film than when FDR declares, "We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence." Quoting an 18th-century English judge, he continued: "'Necessitous men are not free men.' People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made."
Like most of Moore's movies, Capitalism is a mixed bag. The film soars when Moore takes dead aim at obvious examples of corporate greed and corruption. The $700 billion Wall Street bailout that was approved during the waning days of the Bush administration, judges locking up juveniles to fund a for-profit prison in Pennsylvania in which the judge has a financial stake, and the practice of employers surreptitiously taking out so-called dead peasants life insurance policies on their employees—essentially betting on their deaths—are low-hanging fruit for Moore to pluck.
On the other hand, Moore's oeuvre of manipulative editing, juvenile japery and cheap theatrics has rarely felt more tiresome. He often seems more intent on firing the last shot in his war against George W. Bush. He lays bare the corporate ties of Goldman Sachs execs and Clinton/ Bush appointees Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers (along with Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan) but says nary a word against President Obama for nominating each to high-level economic posts in his administration. Instead, he treats Obama's election solely as the first shot in a populist uprising against American plutocracy.
And, for most people, there is a difference between being evicted for defaulting on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage and losing the family homestead due to higher property taxes brought on by the insidious, systemic squeeze of gentrification or municipal rezoning. Not in Moore's world, where perspective takes a backseat to heart-wrenching scenes of crying children and sheriff's deputies bashing in doors to eject squatters.
Lingering over shots of vacant lots where factories stood 60 years ago is sheer sentimentality. "Trying" to make a citizen's arrest of banking CEOs or wrapping crime-scene tape around Wall Street office buildings is, ahem, Moore of the same. But, when Capitalism: A Love Story undresses thieves in suits and how their influence peddling has corrupted the highest levels of our government and led to the masses gettin' f—ked, its creator's antics are justified.