Michael Moore’s ironically-titled new picture is, of course, actually a screed against the entire capitalist system, though one that’s presented in the shambling populist style its maker has perfected over the years. Like its predecessors on the writer-director’s resume, “Capitalism: A Love Story” will appeal to like-minded viewers while being assiduously shunned by his detractors. But looked at dispassionately, it’s fun, despite the fact that it’s obviously not even-handed.
Structurally, the movie is all over the place, jumping from subject to subject without much need for direct links. So at one moment we’re hearing about pilots for commuter airlines who are so poorly trained and paid that they often have to take second and third jobs and use food stamps. Next Moore will be trying to get a comprehensible definition of derivatives and other esoteric financial instruments from Wall Street workers who walk right by, and then finds an “expert” whose explanation is comically garbled. Then there’s a sequence about firms like Wal-Mart that secretly take out life insurance policies on their employees with themselves as beneficiaries, so that they actually profit when the people die. At another point Moore strolls with his aged father along the site where his dad worked for decades—an empty field where a two-mile long plant once stood. Near the beginning he interviews people who have lost their homes via foreclosure and then talks to an agent who specializes in properties. And elsewhere he visits a group of striking workers who take over the Chicago factory that’s unceremoniously fired them and failed to pay the wages they’re due. He even inserts home movies of himself as a kid enjoying the middle-class life of the fifties with his family, an era he portrays at one of promises of the good life under the free enterprise system that have turned out to be hollow.
But the big issue that Moore returns to repeatedly is the idea that in the Reagan years the government of the United States was essentially taken over by Wall Street in the person of puppetmaster Don Regan, a situation that continued in the Clinton administration with Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers and, of course, Alan Greenspan, and reached its natural conclusion with the bailout engineered by Henry Paulson under Bush II, which our pudgy host reads as a rape of the taxpayers. (He notes its continuation under Timothy Geithner, but is less ready to criticize President Obama, whose campaign is instead portrayed as a crusade for people-oriented change.) And here he uses one of his patented stunts, driving up to Wall Street firms with an armored car and empty bags into which he demands the bailout money be placed so that he can return it to Washington.
Moore’s real hero, however, is Franklin Roosevelt, whose enunciation of a second bill of rights for Americans—with elements that would be roundly condemned as socialist by today’s right-wing commentators, who don’t know what real socialism is, if it were proposed now—he sees as the great possibility that has gone unfulfilled. And his solution, which as a good Catholic he buttresses with remarks from a couple of remarkably straight-talking priests and two bishops to boot, is to get rid of what’s evil—the capitalist system itself—and follow FDR’s lead. It’s a system that can’t be fixed by reform, he says; it has to be done away with entirely.
Even many of those to the left of the political center will feel that Moore goes entirely too far here. And however much one might agree with him, you’ll have to admit that what he offers isn’t an argument as much as a polemic. But as in the past, he proves a skilled polemicist, whose wry humor shows those on the right who try to match him—a Rush Limbaugh, for example—as the hopeless second-rans that they are. “Capitalism” may not really be a love story, but it never lets its hatred get ugly.
And that’s why like Moore or not, it’s enjoyable. Of course those who despise him will never find that out.