It’s too bad Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand already used the title “The Decline of the American Empire”; it would have suited Michael Moore’s latest film while also providing the “Fahrenheit 9/11” director a more specific focus. Instead, “Capitalism: A Love Story” provides lots of insights and enraging bits of information while, ultimately, coming off as somewhat amorphous.
Moore has had his pick of events over the past few years to prickle his sense of blue-collar agitation. From the collapse of the housing market and the mass foreclosure of working-class family homes to the bailout of the nation’s biggest financial institutions, “Capitalism” follows the path of how the United States got to where we are today. How did the richest 1 percent of the nation wind up with as much wealth as the poorest 95 percent?
He breaks it down with a few ancient-Rome metaphors, a look at how Ronald Reagan and his corporate puppet masters destroyed the nation’s industrial infrastructure and labor unions, and how Goldman Sachs successfully infiltrated the Treasury Department under both Republican and Democratic presidents.
“Capitalism” makes the case that capitalism itself isn’t just anti-democratic and anti-Christian, it’s just flat-out evil. And faced with examples such as judges getting bribed to send teens to a youth-detention facility that was run by a privately-owned corporation (for crimes like making a MySpace page that mocked an assistant principal) to companies like Wal-Mart and Bank of America taking out life-insurance policies on their rank-and-file employees in the hopes of cashing in on the deaths of those workers, it’s difficult to argue against Moore’s point.
Obviously, those who have never liked Michael Moore or his movies aren’t going to be won over; the fact that his new film demonizes Ronald Reagan while extolling the virtues of FDR’s never-implemented “Second Bill of Rights” for American workers (elements of which turned up in the post-WWII constitutions of our vanquished enemies) will no doubt prompt another round of red-faced excoriations from the usual suspects.
But even if you’re on Moore’s side, it’s hard to follow the ideas here to their ultimate destination: What do we do now? Moore makes a case for community activism, highlighting a Miami neighborhood that organized to allow evicted families to move back into their foreclosed homes so that the surrounding properties wouldn’t decrease in value. We also meet the Chicago factory workers who made national news by occupying their workplace until new owner Bank of America agreed to pay them all wages and health benefits they were due.
Neither of these examples, however inspiring they may be, feel like they tackle the larger issues of corporate greed and malfeasance the film explores, nor the staggering amount of power that financial institutions have over our democratically elected government officials.
The film also falters when Moore repeats his shtick — 20 years after “Roger & Me,” and he’s still trying to storm GM headquarters. Moore is no longer the scrappy outsider — he’s become an iconic figure, and it just feels disingenuous when he tries playing that card again.
Capitalism ultimately feels like too vast a subject for Moore to handle in 135 minutes, and “Capitalism: A Love Story,” which features the populist outrage and satirical humor that Moore fans have come to expect, doesn’t have the call-to-arms impact that “Sicko” did.
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