Michael Moore's documentary feature explores the root causes of the global economic meltdown and takes a comical look at the corporate and political shenanigans that culminated in what Moore has described as 'the biggest robbery in the history of this country" – the massive transfer of U.S. taxpayer money to private financial institutions.
Whether you love him or hate him, you can’t fault Michael Moore’s dedication. He detests the unchecked excesses of the so-called 'free market’ economy, and the hypocrisy of its staunchest defenders, who were the first in line for federal bailout money when cracks started appearing in late-2008.
'I’ve thought about making this movie since I first started making movies," Moore says. 'I think this is what’s at the core of many of our problems – we have an economic system that’s unjust, unfair, undemocratic, and now we’ve learned it doesn’t work!"
In a valiant effort to straddle the yawning chasm that separates the haves from the have-nots in modern America, Moore employs the trademark tactics that polarise his audience. As always, the plain-speaking everyman places himself front and centre as storyteller, showman, selective historian and all-around agitator, mining stock footage archives for often-hilarious, mostly outrageous evidence of Corporate America’s hijacking of The American Dream.
There’s the usual machine-gun delivery of facts and figures (helpfully itemised on the film’s website for subsequent reflection) but in the tradition of Moore’s best work (Bowling for Columbine, Roger and Me and TV’s The Awful Truth...) Capitalism: A Love Story is strongest when its maker opts for solid examples over stunt gags and broad brushstrokes rhetoric. As Americans grapple with rocketing unemployment and record rates of foreclosure, he finds families being exploited as cheap labour by their evictors, and grieving partners being screwed over by their departed’s former employers (thanks to an insurance scheme loophole that pays dividends for employee fatalities).
Of course, the buck goes further than the faceless corporations who hide behind legalese, and Moore saves his best venom for a rogues gallery of elected officials, who either fell asleep on watch or worse, engaged in outright corruption: exhibit A - the senators charged with regulating the banking industry who quietly accepted mate’s rates from lenders; exhibit B - the Dickensian abuse of power/civil rights by federal judges who got kickbacks from correctional centres for every kid they sent to 'juvie".
Moore’s fingerprints are all over the film but so is his DNA, in ways that hark back to his home-grown tragedy Roger and Me. It’s been 20 years since he chronicled the demise of his home town of Flint, Michigan, as a direct result of unprecedented layoffs in the automaker market. He revisits the story in Capitalism: A Love Story and maddeningly little has changed in the interim, apart from a cruel postal system irony that now links the town to many of the country’s foreclosure notices.
Something’s rotten in the State of the Union alright, but a revelatory sequence close to the end of the film reveals how close Americans came to having access to homes, jobs, education and health care realised as civil rights, if only their President (F.D.R.) had lived to see his plan to fruition.
Moore speaks wistfully of his own youthful infatuation with an economic system that offered him The American Dream if he was willing to work for it. Now that the same system ensures that the top 1% of earners make more than the bottom 95% combined, the honeymoon’s over: in this love story, irreconcilable differences aren’t the half of it. Moore the elder feels cheated and like any wronged partner, he’s out for payback, in every sense of the word (Bearing empty moneybags, he beseeches Goldman Sachs and Bank of America employees to return the TARP money: 'Just drop it from the windows").
There’s much to admire in Capitalism: A Love Story, which prods and provokes both sides of the political divide, although Moore never really offers a definitive alternative to the self-serving ex-lover he’s grown to despise.
Capitalism: A Love Story
Tuesday 10 December, 8:30PM on SBS
Director: Michael Moore
Starring: Michael Moore
What's it about?
Examines the impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of Americans. Moore asks the question: What is the price that America pays for its love of capitalism? He finds that families pay the price with their jobs, their homes and their savings. Michael goes into the homes of ordinary people whose lives have been turned upside down; and he goes looking for explanations in Washington and elsewhere. What he finds are the all-too-familiar symptoms of a love affair gone astray: lies, abuse, betrayal - and 14,000 jobs being lost every day.