— by ROB COX —
Although he covers new ground in “Capitalism: A Love Story,” director Michael Moore falls short of the resonance of his best work.
There are notable signs here that Moore may be running out of fresh ideas. Anyone familiar with his previous films will detect a fair amount of reiteration; reiteration that, at times, makes the film feel somewhat uninspired, if not bordering on retread. That’s not to say “Capitalism” isn’t thought-provoking, but Moore has presented much of this material before — with much greater impact.
“Capitalism” opens strongly enough. In the first few minutes, Moore interposes footage from an old documentary about the rise and decline of the Roman empire with scenes from the last decade or so of American history. Drawing parallels between America and the Roman empire is hardly new, but Moore argues his points with a fresh and convincing perspective.
From there, he moves on to the housing bust and to the underhanded Wall Street maneuvering that helped create it. The problem, Moore ultimately argues, is a collusion between government and business. Players from both spheres have intermingled to the point that government has become little more than an extension of corporate America, functioning not for the good of the people, but to enhance the bottom line of big business.
To support his arguments, Moore offers compelling statistics regarding the Wall Street credentials of government’s most influential players. He mixes these with interviews of government and business players sympathetic to his cause and with interviews of average citizens affected by the bust. He also intersperses footage that directly illustrates the corrupting power of big business on government, the most compelling of which may be old video of former Secretary of the Treasury Donald Regan commanding then President Ronald Reagan — while speaking on Wall Street — to “hurry up.”
Moore also goes directly to Wall Street, soliciting random interviews (his requests are ignored) and attempting to make a citizen’s arrest of AIG’s top executives. His adventures on Wall Street, as well as the dirty corporate secrets he exposes, are vintage Moore, by turns funny, inspiring and infuriating.
Wall Street, he concludes, has been intentionally structured with concepts and tactics so complicated and convoluted, that they undermine the system and circumvent existing government regulations — what few of those remain.
The most interesting, most striking new information offered in “Capitalism” relates to the average pay of airline pilots; anyone not familiar with the issue (as I wasn’t) may be shocked to learn that the average salary for beginning pilots is so low that many work second jobs to pay the bills. To support this contention, Moore offers pilot interviews and video from the congressional testimony of pilot Chesley Sullenberger.
Sullenberger is the hero whose crash landing of USAirways flight 1549 into New York’s Hudson River saved the lives of the flight’s 150 passengers. Sullenberger testified before congress in an attempt to prompt legislative action on behalf of pilots.
Moore’s most important function as a film maker may be to stir debate, to motivate viewers into action and into investigating his claims for themselves. This film also reminds — as does all of Moore’s work — that, despite America’s flaws, we remain one of the most ideologically free and vocal countries on earth; there are many places where Moore would be imprisoned — even executed — for his work.
Additionally, his ultimate conclusion that capitalism is evil rings a bit hollow coming from a filmmaker who’s grown wealthy off that evil system. Moreover, in some ways Moore ignores the notion that it’s not capitalism, per say, that’s evil, as opposed to those who corrupt and abuse the system. There is no perfect system in human endeavor.
“Capitalism: A Love Story” offers two hours of fact, opinion and ideology that likely could have achieved greater impact with a bit of trimming. Moore himself seems to recognize that he’s begun repeating himself when, in the film’s closing seconds, he says he doesn’t know how much longer he can “keep doing this” if more people don’t take action, as opposed to merely watching his films. He sounds tired and a little discouraged.
We understand though, that Moore’s discouragement is temporary. He’s unlikely to quit making films, unlikely to leave America, unlikely to quit advocating on behalf of society’s less fortunate. And though I’m glad to have Moore’s voice, I can’t help hoping that, with future work, he can return to the innovations of earlier films as opposed to merely repeating himself and thus reducing his overall effect.
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