Capitalism: A Love Story (Overture Films, R)

film_capitalism_sm.gifWe need a guy who cares about what America used to be and has the means and motivation to keep reminding us how far away from our core values we’ve traveled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Say what you want about Michael Moore, we need him. We need someone who isn’t intimidated by right-wing pundits, money-grubbing financiers and by-the-book government officials. We need a guy who cares about what America used to be and has the means and motivation to keep reminding us how far away from our core values we’ve traveled. Sure, Capitalism: A Love Story is mostly Moore of the same from everyone’s favorite docu-dramedyist, and sure, it’s kinda repetitive in its relentless bashing of the capitalist system and its running down the checklist of the recent financial meltdown from which we’re all still reeling. But hey, it’s a dirty stinking job, and someone really has to do it, okay? Moore is that guy, plain and simple.

Moore has demonstrated a unique brand of genius in such films as Bowling for Columbine and Sicko—an ability to examine the consequences and sometimes unintended fallout of our system, and to target the right causes (most of the time, anyway). There’s no mincing of words in Capitalism: A Love Story; the destruction of institutions, communities, homes and peoples’ spirit is shown to be due to the widespread greed and ultimate control that our capitalist system has allowed the 1% rich to maintain over the other 99%. "Capitalism is more important than democracy," says Wall Street Journal reporter Steven Moore with a straight face. It’s quite remarkable that director Moore is able to elicit quotes such as this when his infamy is such that might scare most skittish insiders away. But whether using clips from old presidential speeches (Ronald Reagan features heavily in one segment, getting blamed for being the head cheerleader of the first chapter of this new era of money-grubbing excess), cornering politicians or actually doing a sit-down interview with a financial figure, Moore knows how to gather material and edit it together in a way that’s alternatingly entertaining and appalling.

We get a tour of a Wilkes-Barre juvenile center called "PA Child Care" that unjustly convicts youngsters who’ve committed trivial offenses because of a profit-oriented arrangement with the judge, we learn about "dead peasant insurance"—the policy some businesses have of taking out insurance policies on employees so that if they die, the business benefits substantially from it—and we tour the ravaged communities and meet the people driven out of their homes by the devastating mortgage crisis, and the spiraling interest rates that continue to take people by surprise each day. Case after case is presented to demonstrate that capitalism is, in the words of a Catholic priest Moore talks to, "immoral, obscene, outrageous and evil." Whether you’re willing to go that far or not, it’s hard to deny the more simply stated views of people like actor Wallace Shawn, who states that "the basic law of life is that if you have things, you can get more things." Or Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’ observation that "we’ve become religious in worshipping greed; we have to change our values."

Moore has his usual fun trying to get into building to see officials who want nothing to do with him, but there is less of the "street ambush"-style of interviewing he’s become known for. And though there are laughs (such as a scene where dubbed dialogue finds a celluloid Jesus refusing to treat a sick person because of a "pre-existing condition"), this is pretty serious business — business being the operative word, as Moore shows in no uncertain terms that the recent bailout was a ruthless, carefully choreographed deceit we were all powerless to stop, and that routinely, day after day, decisions are made for short-term profit rather than long-term benefits to the nation.

Mostly the conclusions are irrefutable, and while Moore wants them to induce anger he also cries for change, which a few hopeful scenarios—such as the successful employee revolt at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago in 2008 after denial of benefits and wages—reveal to be possible. "There’s gotta be some kind of rebellion between the people who have it all and the people who’ve got nothing," Moore’s film concludes. As with all his films, he wants the audience to think, to sift through the bullshit, to get stirred up, and to act, hopefully en masse. Moore is a brave and foolhardy individual, but despite the imperfections and questionable tactics of his movies (including Capitalism), he’s giving us unforgettable lessons in the dangers of complacency (and complicity) in a system geared to advance only the most self-serving, unscrupulous players. And that’s a lesson we can’t get often enough these days. | Kevin Renick

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