By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
In addressing Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story,” first let it be known: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party. In the ‘60’s, when it looked like we might actually have a revolution, I cast my eyes skyward and entreated, “Don’t let my parents get hurt, and let me keep my sports car.” Alas, I am a capitalist.
Which, according to the Oscar-winning (“Bowling for Columbine”) documentarian, is a vestigial notion…an adherence to an economic system that has worn out its usefulness.
That is, unless you are one of the Haves. Who, the writer/director explains, by insincerely dangling the carrot of potential wealth before the Have-Nots, manage to stay quite rich.
Of course this is a rather simplistic elucidation of the quandary in question. But then that is both Mr. Moore’s greatest strength and his most critical weakness. Clearly he is not an economist, nor is he really a scholar of any note. But indeed, he is an important American, a muckraker for the masses. And, his heart is in the right, or rather left, place.
He is an expert researcher and a film splicer supreme, able to mix and match facts with emotions and theories until they firmly tug at the heartstrings. Humorously dissecting our human foibles, he can contrast an old TV commercial with a current event to astutely and acerbically make his humanitarian points. Psst…at times the argument is a tinge specious.
Remember how in geometry you had to show your work? It wasn’t enough to simply have the right answer. Well, even if you agree with Moore’s assessment of the financial miasma that’s widening the rift between poor and wealthy, it’s apparent he’s not above skipping a step here and there in an end justifies the means sort of way, if you will.
But then, like a boxer with a great combination, he redeems himself with a one-two punch of undeniable facts. He manages this in several areas. Most poignant are his diatribes at the mortgage and banking industry. Homing in on the hellacious plague of foreclosures in America, it is “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940) revisited.
Punctuating devastation with delightful absurdity, he achieves needed comedy relief, like when he backs up a Brinks truck to Goldman Sachs in N.Y.C., empty moneybag in hand. Wide-eyed and innocent, he is there both to make a citizen’s arrest and to take back to the Federal Reserve what he believes were ill gotten gains. We cheer the chutzpah.
Of course, none of this indignation is new, but reinvented—Michael Moore style. He has it down pat. Hauling out his template, he hammers out danger, he hammers out a warning, to coin a phrase. Truth is, wise men have agonized over the inherent inequities of capitalism ever since it wrested the economic stage from its greedier uncle, feudalism.
What has changed, though, is the freedom to grumble. No Senator McCarthy stands at the gate to censor or ruin him. A self-fashioned, filmic pamphleteer, Moore exposes the worms under our cultural bedrock. While he inevitably assigns himself tasks akin to cleaning the Augean stables, we luxuriate in his employment of the First Amendment.
Furnishing a little history lesson along the way, he points out how we have veered from the path of liberty and justice mapped-out by the Founding Fathers. Liberally and opportunely quoting them, the blue-collar Robin Hood observes that the term capitalism neither appears in the Constitution, nor is it synonymous with the word democracy.
Espying an internal memo from one of the financial houses “too big to be allowed to fail,” we are abashed by how it bemoans that universal suffrage might obstruct its potential for domination. Numerous other corporate conceits are uncovered, like secret insurance policies purchased in order to profit from the deaths of unwitting employees.
And so it has continued, until the recent bleating for bailouts divulged a chink in the armor. Now the Social Darwinists plead that we don’t thin their herd, warning it would mean total collapse. But what to do? Moore offers no real solution. We don’t want to start singing The Internationale. Nope, nothing harnesses human greed better than capitalism
Thus, until the next Einstein invents a system that will please all of the people all of the time or we evolve into more equitable creatures, we’ll just have to teach this one to treat us better. And hopefully, when we do find a cure for the ills diagnosed in “Capitalism: A Love Story,” it won’t keep me from that romance with a Ferrari I’ve been planning.
“Capitalism: A Love Story,” rated R, is an Overture Films release directed by Michael Moore and stars Michael Moore, the American people and the economic system known as capitalism. Running time: 120 minutes
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