- Rated R
All photos © Overture
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
or someone who makes documentaries that are as scripted as most Hollywood productions, Michael Moore really fell into a bit of luck while making his latest movie, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” when the stock market crashed midway through filming. It’s probably not something Moore would have wanted to happen, but that doesn’t change the fact that it makes for one helluva final act. The 90-odd minutes that precede it, however, aren’t quite as good, as the documentarian best known for his bait-and-switch theatrics rolls through the history of the United States' transformation from economic powerhouse to corporate-run madhouse with about as much liveliness of a high school economics class.
In true Michael Moore fashion, the film boldly opens with the theory that modern day capitalism is no different than someone robbing a bank at gunpoint. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, however, because it’s not capitalism that’s the crime, but rather the way in which it’s enforced. Nevertheless, Moore attempts to back up his statement with a series of stories about middle-class workers who have been evicted from their homes for seemingly no reason at all. (We never get the real story, either, presumably because it might invalidate Moore’s agenda.) It’s not that I don’t have empathy for these hard-working Americans, but if you don’t pay your bills, what do you honestly expect to happen? Of course, that doesn’t excuse absurdly high interest rates, and as we learn from a particularly douchey businessman, real estate vultures that swoop in to turn a foreclosure sale into a profit, but it's hardly fair to say that the banks are all to blame.
While the housing crash plays a big role in the beginning of the film, Moore spends a good amount of the documentary just laying out all the facts of how our economy got to where it is today – from the post-World War II boom to the dissolution of federal regulations following the election of Ronald Reagan. That includes a series of graphs displaying how tax cuts for the rich directly affected the rest of the nation, and though it’s something that most people already know about, it definitely strengthens Moore’s argument. The other ideas he explores throughout “Capitalism” (like companies that take out life insurance claims on their employees and co-op businesses that actually work) are far more interesting, but the film’s greatest moments come when he focuses on the aforementioned stock market crisis, the federal bailout plan proposed to rescue the companies that went bankrupt as a result, and the election of President Obama.
It’s too bad that Moore didn’t set out to make a film exclusively about this series of events, because it’s the only time when “Capitalism” is truly engaging. Like many of his documentaries, there are some segments that serve his thesis better than others, but this time around, the percentage is lower than usual. There’s a whole section on underpaid airline pilots that is undeniably important, but not necessarily relevant here, while a discussion on free market with friend and character actor Wallace Shawn (someone who could hardly be considered a qualified expert on the topic) is completely meaningless. That doesn’t mean that “Capitalism: A Love Story” doesn’t pose some interesting ideas, but it was just more entertaining when it was called “Roger & Me.”
Single-Disc DVD Review:
The DVD release of “Capitalism: A Love Story” is loaded with deleted interviews from the likes of Congressman Elijah E. Cummings and NY Times reporter Chris Hedges, as well as entire segments that never made the final cut. Some of the best ones include a look at Community Supported Agriculture farms, the Wisconsin-based Union Cab work co-op, and the state-owned Bank of North Dakota. They don’t really offer anything that isn’t already represented in the film, but they’re great stories nonetheless.