Well, it’s happened at last. Having previously taken on the evil capitalist policies of General Motors and America’s unfeeling capitalist health system, among other modern ills, our liberal muckracker-in-chief, Michael Moore, has finally decided to bypass the symptoms and go straight for the disease itself. Capitalism: A Love Story, his latest film, acts as a sort of grand summation of Moore’s entire career, arguing that the profit motive poisons everything it touches and urging us to admit that our economic system of the past two centuries amounts to a failed experiment and ought to be scuttled. Unfortunately, as ever, Moore makes his case not with sound reasoning or indisputable evidence, but via blatant emotional appeals, anecdotal nonsense and sarcastic jokes.
To be honest, I lost patience with Capitalism almost immediately. Moore kicks off the film with a hilarious riff on the fall of the Roman Empire, intercutting an ancient schoolroom précis of the subject with contemporary footage suggesting America is headed in the same direction. So far, so good. But then Moore gets serious, presenting the home video of a family which was evicted from its home and kept the camera rolling as the cops busted down the door. This looks frightening, to be sure, and we immediately sympathize with those we perceive to be the victims. But Moore doesn’t contextualize this footage in any way. We don’t know why the family is being evicted, or how long it may have illegally squatted there before the police finally decided it was time to do something. In Moore’s mind, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t matter: To him, there is never any defensible reason to remove a person from his or her home. What we should do when people default on their mortgages, however, he doesn’t say.
Nor does Moore delve much into the minor question of what system ought to replace capitalism. He’s too busy finding good people who don’t have much money and using them as proof that the system is irretrievably broken. Even when he digs up some genuinely disturbing dirt, it doesn’t really support his thesis: No sensible person could fail to be horrified by the revelation that a juvenile detention center was railroading innocent kids into its for-profit cells, but neither would any rational person thereby conclude that this illegal activity proves that capitalism doesn’t work. (It’s like pointing to a guy who killed his wife and claiming marriage should be outlawed.) And if there are two people I never want to see in a motion picture again, they are Michael Moore and some poor, low-paid security guard who is just trying to do his/her goddamn job.
In truth, Moore has never been much more than a spirited prankster who happens to use political outrage as the primary fuel for his comic motor, and his films tend to be precisely as good as they are funny. By that reckoning, Capitalism is at least a bit more successful than Fahrenheit 9/11 or Sicko, in both of which the humor too often curdled. Its biggest laughs are inspired by a fake Cleveland-tourism video Moore found on YouTube, but he does get in a few choice riffs of his own, as when he overdubs a Biblical epic and has Jesus refuse to heal an invalid due to his pre-existing condition. And the film does offer one genuinely stunning bit of little-known archival footage: President Franklin Roosevelt proposing a second Bill of Rights to the American people, just a year or so before he died. FDR wanted the same things that Moore demands—he just never found a practical means of achieving those goals. Nothing much has changed.