The most tiresome -- and problematic, and controversial -- part of any new Michael Moore movie is that it is inevitably directed by Michael Moore. The controversy over America's most popularized documentarian has much more to do with the fact of who he is than what his films are about; he is the discussion before the subject of his film is even announced. Article continues below
Which is really too bad since no one really makes films like Moore, though thousands have imitated his muckraker style for nearly two decades now. In his latest film, Capitalism: A Love Story, he has thrown down the gauntlet on the free-market mindset that has ostensibly been the root cause of most of his past subjects. Within the first five minutes, he equates us with Rome and by midway has reminded us that, to the upper one percent, we are nothing more than "dead peasants." By the end he has found optimism again, but it is a hope that any reasonable person would consider on par with the hope that your next breath won't be your last.
As expected, Moore takes the time to visit with two families of the victims of the now infamous "dead peasant" insurance policies that pay off money to the employer rather than the family in the event of an employee's death; the requisite, though no less heartbreaking, images of tearful, widowed spouses and motherless/fatherless children are included. Catholic priests opine that capitalism is pure sin and America is credibly accused of being less socially progressive than post-WWII Germany. Elsewhere, Moore investigates foreclosures littered across the American landscape and finds predictable-yet-suitable heroes in Bernie Sanders, William K. Black, and, of course, President Obama.
Indeed, the President is seen as the G.I. Joe to Wall Street's Cobra Commandos which is exactly what Moore's trajectory is. Make no mistake: Moore's film is meant to be a non-fiction blockbuster and, for better or worse, it succeeds in that goal. In form, it is by far Moore's least interesting and thematically scatterbrained work, and it often plays as more of an assemblage of random ideas than anything else. Dialectically one-sided (naturally), Moore throws us headfirst into a maelstrom that he is sadly behind the curve on, but that doesn't mean that the ensuing chaos isn't heartfelt or doesn't half-prove the director's argument. His mission, after all, is to attempt to fully explain how our economic system of choice has been so easily corrupted and, arguably, failed -- all within two hours.
It's a lunatic endeavor, but it is one that Moore seems perfectly suited for. He is a recognizable and warm figure and is smart enough to make fun of himself at key moments; he plainly admits that most economic concepts and Wall Street jargon are alien to him. And though partially because of a planet-sized ego, he owns his beliefs without shame, and his films are testaments to challenged ideologies and our country's massive, manic pride. This, ultimately, makes Capitalism: A Love Story his most personal film since Roger & Me: a lone, passionate man's hopeful search for answers to the very root of all of our socioeconomic problems. Moore's ambition, more than ever before, gets the best of him, but I find myself simply unable to dismiss or debase someone who very simply believes, after the turmoil and absurd entitlement of the Bush era, that we can do better.