Yes, that’s my name in the end credits of “Capitalism: A Love Story” (just like it was in “Sicko”), but the copyright research I did on the film was only several hours of my billable time. I feel I can give an entirely impartial opinion of the film, despite my limited association with it. So there.
Twenty years ago, a schlubby 35-year-old Michigan-born college dropout and budding muckraker started a semi-narcissistic career that now has him recognized as one of the most successful non-fiction (Caution: use that descriptor with a wide amount of latitude — this is not your father’s objective factual film) directors and possibly the best-recognized documentary filmmaker in history. More than a half-dozen features later, Michael Moore is back with his usual pithy, wry vengeance. His moral outrage is as obvious as ever; he wears his quietly enraged heart on his cinematic sleeve, poking flippant fun and expressing palpable anger at those he deems responsible for our current monetary problems. Nothing new or wrong here. While some viewers might call Moore an opportunist as his latest work lands on the anniversary of the banking industry collapse, he actually started production months before the debacle, in the spring of 2008. If anything I’d call him omniscient, and he does a heck of a job breaking down the key components of the corporate greed that landed us in this dismal swamp.
In more recent years Moore took on the high-cost health care industry (“Sicko”), the Bush administration and its misguided security policies in a post 9/11/2001 world (“Fahrenheit 9/11”), and America’s sad love affair with guns and violence (“Bowling for Columbine”). Now he’s more or less returned to his roots (well, most of his films harbor hometown feelings of one form or another) with an enlarged examination of the over-amped materialism that caused the downsizing of the General Motors plant in Flint captured in his first feature “Roger & Me” 20 years ago. With the economy in the toilet this past year, it’s all the more timely that he tackles the horrors of Wall Street and its Gordon Gekko greed, turning the screws with various tales of foreclosure horrors and financial malfeasance.
The fiscal meltdown gets the bulk of the story line in this slightly overlong college freshman economics primer, which tends to ramble from finger pointing to showboating, while still gaining points for being modestly entertaining. Moore tosses in his own mildly haughty yet occasionally in-your-face sense of humor. His trademark blend of archival footage in counterpoint and/or comic manipulation to his narration highlights the hubris of this generation’s emperors of finance and their audacious minions as their mighty kingdom of greed and corruption crumbles, taking down many of their now impoverished subjects for the economic count. In “Capitalism: A Love Story,” Moore gives the offenders what he believes they deserve — a big fat spanking. It really annoys the director so damn much that he wants all of us to feel equally pissed off. And it works for the most part. He does it with the ambush interview — in Manhattan’s pecuniary epicenter or in the streets of Washington, DC. And he does it with a score by Jeff Gibbs, presenting supportive strings or angry, emotional crescendos to emphasize who the bad guys are and what they have done to bring about the worst depression in modern times.
Moore makes his best impression on the viewer when masquerading as one of the many Americans clueless about the complexity of the banking and affiliated financial systems collapse, despite having signed on some fuzzy dotted line of a document oozing with legal doublespeak. Curious about certain nomenclature used by the muckity-mucks, he decides to pose several of them onscreen as they attempt, disastrously, to explain the economic term “derivative.” There’s blame aplenty in “Capitalism: A Love Story,” and there are more than enough mad/sad lemmings who have suffered doom from following the imprudent advice of an arrogant, over-rich piper. Michael Moore may be a little rough and unkempt, but he’s preaching a story we must all hear. This is no fairy tale.