In the past decade, it has seemed as if Michael Moore has had his finger on the pulse of issues concerning us. We had his take on post-Columbine gun control, conspiracy notions surrounding 9/11, the American health-care mess, and now a broadside attack on the c-word itself, Capitalism: A Love Story, hot on the heels of America’s financial tsunami.
From another perspective, of course, Moore can also be seen as a shrewd Great American entrepreneur, like an ambulance chaser who seizes on subjects, rattling the public’s interests and feeding them entertaining mock-exposes full of flimsy reasoning, genuinely funny showboating, and wanton disregard for basic journalistic integrity. The film’s clever title may ultimately be less ironic than intended by the most successful hyper-capitalist in the history of documentary filmmaking. Of course, Moore’s films become infinitely more enjoyable once you yank away the standards by which docs are conventionally judged.
This time out, Moore seizes the economically frazzled moment to take a look at the fissures leading to our current crisis, pinpointing the beginning of the morass in Reaganomics. He pretends to examine the complex and sinister forces leading to the economic meltdown, but winds up throwing up his hands trying to define “derivatives.” To dig up fresh material in the larger story, he heads down subplot paths-for instance, a corrupt children’s detention facility in Pennsylvania, the morbid “Dead Peasants” insurance policy secretly taken out by companies on their workers. He revisits his first, and best, film, Roger & Me, from 20 years ago, and is still trying, vainly, to interview important people, who generally refuse to talk to him.
Like the other films in the Moore oeuvre, Capitalism has much to offer, including a spur to communal conversation on a topic all too close to home. At the same time, he’s up to his old questionable tricks, as a provocateur with an entertainer’s soul. He comes off as a well-meaning, bulbous, bullhorn-bearing buffoon, entertaining millions, raking millions of dollars into his ever fatter, happy, capitalist bank account, and delivering repeated blows to the presumed integrity of the documentary genre.