Monday, October 5, 2009

Movie Review: Capitalism: A Love Story

Capitalism: A Love Story ***
Directed By:
Michael Moore.
Written By: Michael Moore.

Michael Moore would have you believe that his new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, takes direct aim at Capitalism as an economic system, and finds it morally bankrupt and evil. But that’s not really what the film is about. It is another one of Moore’s films about corrupt greed and corruption, and how the inactivity of the government, or in some cases activity of the government, has allowed companies to get away with more and more money, and become more and more corrupt. The real villains in the movie is not the system of capitalism itself, but rather greedy companies and ineffectual lawmen. It is, in fact, more of the same from Moore who has essentially been making this movie since his breakthrough Roger and Me in 1989. It is only the villains who change.

Capitalism: A Love Story basically focuses on the bank bailout that Congress passed in late 2008, and the fallout that ensued. The banks essentially got themselves into trouble by giving away too much credit to too many people who could not afford to pay them back. They did great for a while, but soon, they had no money coming in, and their foreclosure rates went through the roof, and they couldn’t find anyone willing to buy the houses they foreclosed on. Congress rode in on their white horse and gave them $700 billion to save them from themselves. The problem, in Moore’s view anyway, is that while they saved the banks, and later the car companies and others, they did nothing to save the individuals whose lives had been destroyed by the crisis. People who lost their jobs, their houses, everything.

The problem stretches back to Reagan in Moore’s view. When Reagan got in, it started three decades of deregulation that all eventually led to the crash last year. Through the Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush II years, banks and corporations were essentially given more and more freedom to do what they wanted to do. They were happy to do it, as the increased profits drove up their stock prices. The stock market became more complex, and essentially a casino for the wealthy, where they always won, and the little guy always lost. When the big guys lost, they went whining to the government for help.

For the first time in his career perhaps, Moore is willing to attack across party lines. He places the blame for the bailout squarely at Bush’s feet, but also finds more than enough blame to put at the feet of the Democrats, who helped push it through as well. He certainly does take it easy on Clinton either, who helped along with the rest of them to deregulate the system, and put people in positions of power that had a vested interest in the system. His weakest point though, is that he starts to, then backs off, of directly attacking Barack Obama. He mentions that Obama seemed to come riding in as a hero to save the middle class, but then got a lot of campaign donations from the wealthy. But he never really follows through on it. In the 9 months now that Obama has been President, has he done ANYTHING to reverse the tide? Attacking the sins of the past is one thing, but putting pressure to change things in the future in something Moore needs to work on.

Capitalism: A Love Story is not really about how capitalism as system is inherently evil however, but rather how it has become twisted and perverse in the hands of the current power holders on Wall Street and in Washington. Does Moore really suggest that America become a socialist regime? I don’t think so. He does conveniently, however, overlook the fact that America is already part socialist anyway – much like the rest of the world. If it wasn’t, Americans would pay far less in taxes, but a whole hell of a lot more for a lot of different things. Schools for example. Yes, there has been an increase in privatization in the past decade – everything from Military personnel to jails has been privatized – but America at its core is still a mixture of the two systems. Here in Canada, we are as well, although because of health care and others, we do lean a little more to socialism than America does.

What I think Moore is really after in this film is to stir debate, and start conversations, and make people question what it is that is being done with their money. On that level, I think he succeeds. I think Capitalism: A Love Story is perhaps Moore’s most troublesome documentary, because it does not have the focus of his other films. He seems to lash out in all directions at times, making his argument scattershot. For every sound argument he makes in the movie, there is one where he is just as off base.

But there is a passion behind Moore’s film that is undeniable. He is a rabble rouser, so when he heads to Wall Street in an armored car with a big bag with a dollar sign on it, like it just came out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, he doesn’t actually expect to get inside the buildings. Everyone knows who he is, and security guards seem to know he is coming. Some even have a little trouble to stop themselves from laughing at Moore’s antics. Somewhere inside, I suspect they know that Moore is at least partly right, and that they are being screwed over by their companies. But hey, they probably have a mortgage to pay, right?

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