Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Movie Review: Where to Invade Next

Where to Invade Next
Directed by: Michael Moore.
Written by: Michael Moore.

A new Michael Moore film will always attract controversy – with legions of people on the right trying to discredit everything he says, and legions on the left defending him. To a certain extent, Moore does bring this on himself – he makes his movies easy to nitpick, by leaving out certain details, or painting a portrait either sunnier or darker than it really is, to make his point. Lots of filmmakers do that, of course, and they get called on it – but perhaps no one more so than Moore. His latest film, Where to Invade Next, will undoubtedly be no different – although this time perhaps the reaction will be more subdued. Moore isn’t really interested in blaming anyone for anything in the film – and he doesn’t play the “gotcha” games with interview subjects that he has sometimes done in the past. The film is the most optimistic of Moore’s career in fact – not so much criticizing America for what it does wrong, but rather trying to egg it on to do better. As the greatest country in the world, which Moore still believes America is, he simply thinks they can do better – and in this movie, he goes on a tour of mainly European countries for ideas that he can bring back.

Moore gives the film a framing device – saying that the Joint Chiefs of Staff are tired of losing one war after another, and so have called him in to decide where to invade next – and Moore goes on a fact finding mission, discovering how one country does something better than America, and then planting the American flag so he can bring it back home. So he heads off to Italy to find out about paid vacation, France for school lunches, Slovenia for free university, Norway for prison reform, Finland for the key to education, Germany for the way it deals with its violent past, Tunisia for the way they resolve deep seeded political and religious conflicts, Iceland for women’s equality, etc.

Moore is a smart and funny filmmaker of course, and he wraps all this in an entertaining package – feigning amazement at things he probably already knew when he arrived in different countries, and obviously ignoring some of the aspects of the different countries he invades that may not so good - I’m not sure anyone really wants Italy’s economy right now for instance, and I don’t think there would ever be too much support for a maximum prison sentence of 21 years – for any crime – like Norway, so for example the crazed right winger who went on a killing spree there a few years ago, killing dozens, will be out in two decades. Yet, throughout it all, Moore remains a cock eyed idealist – showing how other people do things, and wondering precisely why America cannot do things the same way – especially, as he discovers, many of the ideas that these other countries have adopted actually come from America – it’s just that the other countries adopted them, and America did not. Moore wants America to be better – and who can argue with that?

A lot of people surely will argue with Moore – and point out flaws, or simply call him a socialist (or worst) when they see the film (if they see it). The problem with Moore now is that he is so well known, and so deeply entrenched on the left, that I doubt that few people who disagree with Moore will actually see Where to Invade Next – unless they are doing it simply to find flaws in Moore’s argument. And, they will find some flaws – they are undeniably there. But it’s a shame that many will not open their minds a little bit, and wonder, like Moore does if there is something’s that America can do better than it currently does. One of the big problems in society – on both sides of the aisle – is who closed minded everyone is to anyone who happens to disagree with them. Where to Invade Next is not a great film – but it is a hugely entertaining and important one. If you head in with an open mind, no matter what your political leanings may be, you will probably find something you agree with.

Note: I saw Where to Invade Next at TIFF in September. As far as I know, he hasn’t re-edited it since, so it should be the same version in theaters this week in New York and LA, and the rest of the country in February.

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