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Less Is Not Moore

“Capitalism: A Love Story” is Michael Moore at his most liberal — just not the way you might assume.



If the adage is true that just because you're paranoid it doesn't mean they're not after you, could it follow that just because Michael Moore is after you it doesn't mean you're not a cause of paranoia?

Moore's latest, a wholesale attack on capitalism going back to 1932, will surely dismay those who inspect his work for factual errors and logical inconsistencies, but it's also Moore's best pure essay to date, and easily the funniest, most entertaining, emotionally resonant film to emerge from the recent brush with worldwide economic disaster.

Even more than “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Moore takes his material to extreme ends of tragedy and comedy to prove a point, which is this: Capitalism, at least as it has been practiced by robber barons of the 20th and 21st centuries, is ultimately destructive to values other than greed, especially the ones we most often claim to admire, such as family, faith and freedom.

Sounds pretty … conservative, doesn't it? It may come as a surprise to Moore's opponents on the right that the emotional plea made by this film is not a push for “liberal” change, but for a return to a 1950s America Moore recalls from childhood: hard work, vacations, church, housing, health care and ice-cream. Oh, and unions, too.

While Moore doesn't offer a lot of ideas for how to get back there, he does an excellent job summing up his version of how everything terrible got wonderful (after World War II), unraveled into terrible again (Reagan) and where it's left us: post-apocalyptic Bush, amid the ruins of the things remembered so fondly by some of the film.

The ride is a wild one, with brief stops in ancient Rome (around the time it was recreated by a cheap movie in the 1950s) juxtaposed with scenes of present-day empire crumbling. The Son of God makes a particularly memorable appearance, via overdubbed “Jesus of Nazareth” clips, telling a lame man looking for a healer that he's sorry but he just can't help: It's a “pre-existing condition.”

Moore claims he wanted to be a priest before he wanted to be a filmmaker, and there's no doubt he would have been a force behind the pulpit. As a movie man, his gift for the visual zinger is currently unrivaled. Especially audacious: the Chihuahua jumping up and down at the idea of the American Dream; cat videos on YouTube as our national pastime; and, again, the entire “Jesus of Nazareth” thing, which can't be overstated. Moore would be successful even if he wasn't doing this.

He only needs a second guesser sometimes. Moore doesn't do himself any favors giving in yet again to his self-indulgent man-on-the-street stunts, asking people on Wall Street to help him understand derivatives, calling Henry Paulson and running yellow crime-scene tape around a big New York bank. A more practical reason to cut: The movie is simply too long, and begins to feel that way in these segments, even though they are few compared to the laughs and the equally numerous moments of deeply affecting misfortune.

The movie recounts the well-publicized success of workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago to get their severance packages and back pay after their company closed suddenly from a freeze on capital by Bank of America. This story lends moral support to the smaller-scale illustrations Moore offers about evicted and disrupted families not helped in the bailout. Why not? Moore already has his answer, but it's still a fair question. 

Capitalism, Moore's film repeatedly asserts, is an evil that must be eradicated. There are people far to Moore's left and right, and even those standing pretty much side-by-side with him, who could poke a hundred or more holes in his argument. But “Capitalism: A Love Story” is not intended as a dispassionate examination of the historical record. It is plainly intended as an emotional appeal. More than anything Moore seems like a guy who really cares, to the point of not caring how silly he sometimes makes himself look. Should we base important policy on emotion? Perhaps not, but that doesn't make Moore's message, or its messenger, any less appealing. (R) 127 min. HHHHH


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