Mark Reviews Movies

CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Michael Moore

MPAA Rating: R (for some language)

Running Time: 2:07

Release Date: 10/2/09


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Michael Moore is mad. Really mad. Not that raving type of anger you see so often with certain political pundits, who start yelling and calling names and ultimately making no sense. The idea, I suppose, is that the louder one talks, the more right one's position is.

I guess that's the logic at least.

No, when Moore gets mad, he takes on a level of disbelief—basically injecting his tone of voice as though he's saying, "There's no way someone could think that/could do that/is that stupid," with every word. Yet, every word makes sense. Whether you agree with those words or not is up to your own judgment.

The argument of the ironically titled Capitalism: A Love Story is that capitalism as an economic system in the United States has failed, and the American people have been stuck with the bill. It's not just about the government bailout of the banks but also the unbelievable lengths to which some companies will go to make money off of their customers, their employees, and the government.

This critical analysis of corporate America has been Moore's major theme since he gained notice with his Roger & Me in 1989. Twenty years later, he still can't get into the GM building, still has plenty of ammunition for his scattershot approach to dissecting a topic, and still manages to generate plenty of laughs amidst the feelings of resentment his subject wells up.

He's also found cities throughout the country that have started to resemble his hometown of Flint, Michigan, which was brought to its knees by layoffs and plant closings by GM despite the company's record profits.

Foreclosures, unemployment, and animosity toward big business are no longer the symptoms of a microcosm but of the country as a whole. We see a couple in Peoria, Illinois, who are evicted from their house without the customary 90 days notice. Adding insult to injury, the bank that foreclosed on them (They bought into the idea of refinancing their mortgage) decided it was best to let them clean out the house instead of hiring expensive movers.

The bank was kind enough to send them a check for their work.

There are plenty of scenes like this in the film, which takes the personal agony of the folks suffering from highly touted but really bad ideas from banks and money lenders and begins to examine the cause.

Of course, Moore argues, it's capitalism (and more specifically Ronald Reagan, who does not come off looking to good here after Moore shows a bunch of statistics during his administration). Companies want to make as much money as quickly as possible. This means workers are without unions, not paid a living wage (Most commercial pilots, we learn, are given a starting salary of $15,000 a year; one pilot interviewed was on food stamps at one point), and, in some instances, are worth more dead to their employer than alive and working.

Moore talks about "dead peasant" insurance, in which a company takes out a life insurance policy on their employees. One woman discovered her deceased husband had a life insurance policy on him, and the check went to his employer. During an interview with an attorney who specializes on the matter, he has a long list of companies that have or may still be participating in this practice. They're all recognizable.

There's a lot going on in the film, and Moore transitions from piece to piece as well as he can, given the overwhelming nature of the subject. There's a privatized juvenile detention facility in Pennsylvania that paid off judges to increase the jail's population. Basically, if a kid went before one of the judges, they went to juvie.

It might seem a stretch to fit this into the film, but overall, it works. The film is at its best and least later on when inspecting the government bailout of the banks last year. Going step by step at how the treasury department (run by the former CEO of one the banks that got a check (Reagan's blamed for starting that trend, too)) and the Bush administration finagled the legislation through Congress in spite of a failed first vote and much public backlash, Moore riles things up pretty good.

When he goes to Wall Street, armored truck and moneybag in tow, the guerilla theater moments take things down a lot. It's too much and doesn't seem the kind of humor from the guy we just saw take an Encyclopedia Britannica film on the fall of Rome and mix in footage of modern America. A particularly great moment there: The narrator talks of "idle entertainments" to distract the population as a clip from "American Idol" plays.

This is an immense undertaking for Moore, and considering the vast spread of the subject matter of Capitalism: A Love Story, that the film works as well as it does is an accomplishment.

Moore has a pretty logical point, too. In a free market, if a business or product fails, doesn't that mean something else has the opportunity to fill the void? And wasn't that mess that happened a year ago a pretty big failure?

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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