Capitalism: A Love Story
6 September 2009
If Michael Moore's latest documentary lacks the clean
punch of his best-known work, it can only be because the
crime scene is so vast, writes Xan Brooks at the
film festival 4 out of 5 stars
Michael Moore film Capitalism: A Love Story
The bankrobbers caught on CCTV at the start of
Capitalism: A Love Story are a forlorn and feeble bunch.
We see a bedraggled old man in a Hawaiian shirt, and
what looks to be a 12-year-old boy wearing a balaclava.
For all their flailing efforts, they've got nothing on
the real crooks: the banking CEOs who recently absconded
with $700bn of public money, no strings attached. That's
what's known as a clean getaway.
Michael Moore's latest documentary drew tumultuous
applause at the
that the veteran tub-thumper has lost none of his power
to whip up a response. If the film finally lacks the
clean, hard punch provided by the record-breaking
Fahrenheit 9/11, that can only be because the crime
scene is so vast and the culprits so numerous.
Reagan to Bush Jr, Hank Paulson to Alan Greenspan. He
drags the viewer through a thicket of insurance scams,
sub-prime bubbles and derivative trading so wilfully
obfuscatory that even the experts can't explain how it works.
The big villain, of course, is capitalism itself, which
the film paints as a wily old philanderer intent on
lining the pockets of the few at the expense of the
many. America, enthuses a leaked Citibank report, is now
a modern-day "plutonomy" where the top 1% of the
population control 95% of the wealth. Does Barack
Obama's election spell an end to all this? The director
has his doubts, pointing out that Goldman Sachs -
depicted here as the principal agent of wickedness - was
the largest private contributor to the Obama campaign.
Capitalism: A Love Story is by turns crude and
sentimental, impassioned and invigorating. It posits a
simple moral universe inhabited by good little guys and
evil big ones, yet the basic thrust of its argument
proves hard to resist.
Crucially, Moore (or at least his researchers) has done
a fine job in ferreting out the human stories behind the
headlines. None of these is so horrifyingly absurd as
the tale of the privatised youth detention centre in
who railroaded kids through his court for a cut of the
profits. Some 6,500 children were later found to have
been wrongly convicted for such minor infractions as
smoking pot and "throwing a piece of steak at my mom's
boyfriend". The subsequent bill for their incarceration
went directly to the taxpayer.
and un-American, an evil that deserves not regulation
but elimination. No doubt he had concluded all this
anyway, well in advance of making the film, but no
matter. There is something energising - even moving -
about the sight of him setting out to prove it all over
again. Like some shambling Columbo, he amasses the
evidence, takes witness statements from the victims and
then starts doorstepping the guilty parties.
"I need some advice!"
Wall Street trader who has just left his office. "Don't
make any more movies!" the man shoots back.
chuckles at that, but the last laugh is his. This, more
than any other, is the movie they will wish he had never embarked on.
Capitalism: A Love Story
By LESLIE FELPERIN
September 5, 2009
'Capitalism: A Love Story'
An Overture Films release of a
Overture Films presentation in association with the
Weinstein Co., of a Dog Eat Dog production.
(International sales: Paramount Vantage,
Produced by Michael Moore, Anne Moore. Executive
producers, Kathleen Glynn, Bob Weinstein,
Weinstein. Co-producers, Rod Birleson, John Hardesty.
Directed, written by Michael Moore.
With: Michael Moore, Frank Moore.
By returning to his roots, professional gadfly Michael
Love Story." Pic's target is less capitalism qua
capitalism than the banking industry, which
skewers ruthlessly, explaining last year's economic
meltdown in terms a sixth-grader could understand. That
said, there's still plenty here to annoy right-wingers,
as well as those who, however much they agree with
Moore's politics, just can't stomach his
oversimplification, on-the-nose sentimentality and
goofball japery. Whether "Capitalism" matches
"Fahrenheit 9/11" or underperforms like Sicko" will
depend on how much workers of the world are ready to
unite behind the message.
Pic reaped mostly ecstatic applause at its first press
largely leftist persuasion of film-fest auds, especially
U.S.-centric, apart from the odd approving mention of
some foreign nation. Nevertheless, pic is likely to make
considerably more offshore, where "socialism" isn't
considered a cuss word, than at home.
Another commercial factor to consider is whether, by the
time the Overture release rolls out Oct. 2, most auds
might feel too bored with or depressed about the economy
to engage with the pic, despite its ultimately upbeat,
power-to-the-people message. A release six months ago,
when the crisis was still very raw, might have been
surfed the zeitgeist more effectively. Ironically, given
the current debate over President Obama's health-care
plans, "Sicko" might have suited the times better.
Sticking largely to the template laid down in his
earlier films, particularly "Fahrenheit 9/11" and
"Sicko" ("Roger and Me" and "Bowling for Columbine" had
more linear structures, with specific stories to tell),
"Capitalism" skips around considerably, laying down a
mix of reportage, interviews and polemic. In the opening
reels alone, auds are introduced to ordinary folk whose
homes are being repossessed; a gleefully unabashed real
estate agent who specializes in finding bargains on
foreclosed properties; immaculately researched archival
footage presenting crew-cut 1950s squares extolling the
virtues of capitalism; and homemovies showing
tow-headed child, visibly overjoyed to be visiting Wall
Street on a vacation to
The helmer is a very visible onscreen presence here
throughout, which detractors will decry as self-
indulgent. But the decision is justified, given how
relevant the damage done to the American automobile
industry is to the banking crisis, as well as the the
central role GM played in "Roger and Me," excerpts of
which are shown here, and the fact that
worked in the motor biz. There's genuine poignancy, even
surprising restraint and dignity, in a scene where
father and son visit the vacant lot that once housed the
factory where the elder
manipulate viewers' emotions with shots of crying
children and tearjerking musical choices that he's not
so much over-egging the pudding as making an omelet out
of it. While it could be argued that
the human-interest stories for all their worth to get
auds to engage with his denunciation of capitalism, more
often than not, such tactics just patronize the audience
and descend into cheap sentimentality.
stops short of holding up dead puppies Hank Paulson
back and lets a good story tell itself in drier terms,
recalling his best, muckraking work in the tube series
"TV Nation" and "The Awful Truth." There's a horrifying
yet absurd account, little known outside the
judges bribed to send as many juvenile offenders as
possible to detention centers in
for offenses as trivial as ridiculing an assistant
principal on MySpace. Also recalling the grassroots
activism of his TV work are rousing segments of workers
protesting Bank of
owed when the company goes into receivership, along with
calls elsewhere to, if not arms, at least civil disobedience.
No Michael Moore film would be complete without scenes
of the writer-helmer arguing with security guards in
glassy office-building foyers as he attempts to have an
impromptu word with the company's CEO. Predictably ill-
fated attempts are made to storm the citadels of various
banks and financial institutions that survived the
crash. In perhaps the funniest moment,
find a banker who can explain what derivatives are; he
corners one and says he wants some advice, to which the
reply comes, quick as a flash: "Stop making films!"
Moore shows no signs of heeding this injunction, and
ends the pic on a combatative note, vowing, "I refuse to
live in a country like this, and I'm not leaving." It's
a pugnacious riposte to his right-wing critics, but in
doubters, who will have plenty of evidence here that
Engels understood it, or even as the North Koreans and
Cubans do, than with capitalism's most egregious
excesses in the
ownership, just more cooperatively owned businesses
where everyone shares the wealth and makes collective
socialism with capitalism, and ultimately sets up an
inoffensive-to-the-point-of-meaningless notion of
democracy as capitalism's opposite.
Original footage looks almost deliberately cruddy, as if
shaky camerawork were a badge of authenticity. Sound was
also a bit muddy at the screening caught, but editing,
credited to seven different names, is aces throughout.
Camera (color, HD), Dan Marracino, Jayme Roy; editors,
John Walter, Conor O'Neill; co-editors, Jessica
Brunetto, Alex Meillier, Tanya Ager Meillier, Pablo
Proenza, T. Woody Richman; music, Jeff Gibbs; sound
(Dolby Digital), Francisco LaTorre, Mark Roy, Hillary
Stewart. Reviewed at
Sept. 5, 2009. (Also in
Presentations.) Running time: 117 MIN.