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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 33.82%
Average: 10.29%
Pretty Bad: 1.47%
Total Crap: 4.41%

7 reviews, 26 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Open Up And Say "Aargh!"
5 stars

There is a myth surrounding documentaries that says that a "real" documentary must contain an equally balanced and objective look at the subject at hand and that it must not choose sides. This is nonsense, no doubt created by people who have never actually watched a documentary in their lives and have somehow confused them with proper journalism. Every documentary filmmaker-well, at least the good ones-already have a point-of-view about their chosen subject (why would they choose to make a film about it otherwise?) and every decision that they make regarding the film is a result of wanting to emphasize that particular point-of-view. In the case of Michael Moore, the radical director of such films as "Roger & Me, “Bowling for Columbine" and “Fahrenheit 9/11" is that he doesn’t try to cover up this dirty little secret. In his films, he has a point to make and he will use every trick in the book-humor, shock and outright manipulation-in order to get you to see that point as well and the fact that he does it in such an entertaining and compulsively watchable manner is the thing that drives most of his critics up the wall. Face it–if his films were nothing more than the dry-as-dust collection of talking-head interviews and archival footage that were the hallmark of most documentaries before Moore arrived on the scene to shake things up, do you think that they would receive even a fraction of the attention that his work currently gets?

The downside to this, of course, is that Moore and his films have deeply polarized audiences into those who seem him as a brave voice speaking out against the injustices of the world and those who see him as an attention-seeking opportunist. In the past, this divide was understandable because the subjects that he dealt with in his films–the gun control issue in “Bowling For Columbine” and the unraveling situation in Iraq depicted in “Fahrenheit 9/11"–were the kind of deeply decisive issues that didn’t necessarily lend themselves to easy answers. (If they did, they wouldn’t be deeply decisive issues, would they?) In the case of his latest film, the brilliant “Sicko,” it would be a shame if this past decisiveness kept a large portion of the potential audience away because, unlike his previous films, it deals with a subject that it is hard to imagine most viewers, liberal or conservative, could possibly object to–the failure of the richest nation on Earth to come up with a workable health care system along the lines of countless other civilized countries throughout the world–and it is precisely the kind of thing that could be changed if enough people were inspired to come together and demand it from their elected officials.

There are over 45 million Americans without any form of health insurance and “Sicko” kicks off by recounting a couple of their stories–one man accidentally saws off his ring and middle fingers and is essentially forced to choose which one to save since he cannot afford to have both of them replaced. One could easily fill two hours of screen time with tragic tales of uninsured Americans but “Sicko” is not that movie. Instead, Moore has chosen to focus on those people who do have health insurance but have discovered to their horror and disbelief that those providers will do everything in their power to deny legitimate claims in order to save money and increase their bottom line. Some of the tales that we hear are darkly hilarious–a woman recounts how she was rushed to the hospital after a car accident and later discovered that her insurance provider wouldn’t pay for the ambulance on the grounds that she didn’t have it pre-approved. Some others are heartbreaking–a couple is forced to move into their daughter’s study when they can no longer afford to keep their house and pay for the medical treatments needed to keep them alive. Even if the claims are legitimate, the companies go to extraordinary ends to find ways to deny payments–in interviews, we meet an insurance provider talking about meeting with people whom she knows in an instant that she will be denying coverage to because they are a bad risk, HMO doctors who report that they were offered bonuses based on the number of claims they helped turn down and even a former insurance industry hitman whose job was to delve into the past histories of claimants and find something–anything–that would allow them to weasel out of providing coverage.

How did this happen? At this point, Moore shifts gears to offer us a brief overview of the health care industry and its long-time resistance to the alleged evils of “socialized medicine.” From the 1950's, when such an idea smacked of communism, we hear a recording provided by the AMA with the self-explanatory title of “Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine.” In the 1970's, we hear Richard Nixon on White House tapes discussing what would eventually become our current HMO system, a plan favored by the Kaiser Permanente corporation because it allowed them to make an enormous profit off of health care. Then there is the infamous attempt by Hilary Clinton to spearhead health-care reform in the 1990's that was brought down by politicians essentially bought off by the health-care industry–lest you think that this is a Republican-bad/Democrat-good perception of those events, Moore takes Hilary to task as well for eventually abandoning her plan and accepting funds from the industry as well.

Of course, it is one thing to merely talk about how great the idea of universal, government-funded health care might be in theory and another thing to see it in practice, especially since the health-care industry has gone to great lengths to paint socialized medicine as a nightmare of long lines, unfeeling doctors and inadequate care. To that end, Moore takes his cameras to several countries that have universal health care–England, France and Canada–and gives us a glimpse of them that is utterly unlike how the insurance companies have painted them in the past. In those lands, Moore finds a paradise where medication is inexpensive, the wait to see a doctor is not especially grueling and hospitals send you on your way when you are better, not when you can no longer pay for treatment. Some have accused Moore in this section of painting an overly rosy picture of the health care systems of these countries and have suggested that he isn’t giving viewers all of the facts. That may be true–okay, it probably is true–but that doesn’t take away from the point that these other countries have at least tried to provide medical care for all of their citizens, rich or poor, and even if those programs are only a fraction as effective as they are shown here, it is still more than anything happening in this country.

When Moore returns to America, the increasingly out-of-control attitude towards health care for the disenfranchised–we see a shocking videotape of an obviously deranged woman literally being dumped on the street because she can’t afford to pay for treatment–and this leads to the film’s lone attention-getting stunt. Moore meets a group of 9/11 rescuers who have been denied benefits for treatments resulting from their work at Ground Zero because they were volunteers and not employees of the fire department. In a moment of inspiration, he gathers them onto a boat and sets off for the one place on American soil where everyone receives full government-sponsored health care–the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. When that move fails (“We want the same program al Qaeda is getting!”), the group moves on to Havana and discovers that even they have managed to put together a seemingly adequate health care system.

While I may agree with the political sentiments behind “Sicko”–I do believe that we need some kind of universal health care program and I find it obscene that we can’t even get a civilized discussion of the subject off the ground–my job is analyze how well or poorly Moore conveys his information in cinematic terms. In that respect, “Sicko” hits a home run for the way that Moore takes a subject that many have tried to make as complicated as possible and whittled it down to the essential aspects that he is dealing with. Obviously, there is more to the health-care dilemma in America than he depicts–there is only so much that he can put into a two-hour film–but what he does include is handled in such a clear and concise manner that it may hopefully inspire audience members to investigate the subject in greater depth on their own instead of shrugging it aside in the way that the American public has done for too long. Perhaps realizing that his subject matter this time is vast enough to potentially interest people who wouldn’t normally attend one of his films, he dials his usually pugnacious attitude way back here–he doesn’t even appear on-camera until maybe 45 minutes in–and largely lets the material speak for itself. As a result, while “Sicko” may not have as much of the palpable sense of rage that fueled many of his previous film, it does demonstrate a more mature filmmaking approach that shows that Moore has grown comfortable enough as a director to set aside the shock tactics and trust the material to speak for itself.

Whether you love or loathe Michael Moore, the fact is that health care in America today is a joke, one that is growing steadily less funny with every passing day, and something needs to be done to fix it before it is too late and that can only happen if all of us–rich or poor, liberal or conservative, young or old–unite to demand it from our leaders instead of letting things continue as they have been. “Sicko” is that inspirational rallying point–an alternately hilarious and horrifying look at a national shame that pulls no punches in showing what exactly has gone wrong and yet it still manages to end on the kind of hopeful note that might spark audiences to demand the kind of changes that it argues that we need to make us a better and stronger nation.

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originally posted: 06/29/07 23:16:57
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User Comments

6/01/10 User Name This documentary manages to shock and amuse. 4 stars
1/20/10 Croweater88 Free health care is a right, not a privilege. Australia has it too, why doesn't the USA? 5 stars
12/30/09 Dane Youssef An essential bitter pill that may save lives all over this dying country. America is sick. 5 stars
2/17/08 R.W.Welch Harpoon of U.S. healthcare makes its point. Moore's most valid shot. 4 stars
2/14/08 Johnno 11 years under right-wing government & UNIVERSAL health care. (Australia), america is dumb! 5 stars
2/13/08 timunsuri i just see the movie last night, it was moving,sad yet funny at the same time.. 5 stars
1/25/08 matthew a brilliant film, both hilarious and eye opening. Moore's best film yet. SEE IT NOW 5 stars
12/04/07 Andrew I love this movie even though it made me sad. 5 stars
11/14/07 mike I seriously want to move to Europe now or at least Canada 5 stars
7/23/07 Helen This film made me cry. These are true happenings. People are being denied health care. 5 stars
7/21/07 Dana A post card for the salvation of allopathetic medicine. Even free I'm not interested. 4 stars
7/15/07 Monday Morning You'll laugh and you'll cry, which is what the best stories make you do. 5 stars
7/11/07 Billy Don't waste your money, this film should be labeled fiction, not documentry 1 stars
7/06/07 zaw Who even said its wrong and lies not deal with insurance companies! 5 stars
7/06/07 Toni Sobering, heartbreaking and powerful. Best movie of the summer so far. 5 stars
7/04/07 Eric Great movie, but Michael Moore is still in it... 4 stars
7/04/07 Heather One of the best movies I've seen this year, what a wake up for Americans 5 stars
7/03/07 laura bennett Michael Moore should be ashamed of himself 1 stars
7/03/07 cam BIG Lies. Any one who would do any checking on his claims and stats, they are ALL WRONG 1 stars
7/01/07 Ole Man Bourbon Had it been more logical and focused, Sicko could've zeroed on Ins Co's dfradment of cust's 3 stars
6/30/07 Booyah Boy I'd suggest Mr Sobcynski should get acquainted with Errol Morris. Objective isn't boring. 5 stars
6/29/07 billybob Hold Bush & Cheney to the same level of truthfullness we demand of this filmmaker 5 stars
6/26/07 thejames socialism is good. figure it out america 5 stars
6/24/07 Hey Donny M So, you don't have a problem with "truth stretching", eh? 2 stars
6/23/07 DonnyM Stretched Truth but it needs to be to hit you hard. Enjoyable. 5 stars
6/22/07 Ed Sometimes Moore's demeanor gets annoying, but the message is true and powerful 4 stars
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  22-Jun-2007 (PG-13)
  DVD: 06-Nov-2007



Directed by
  Michael Moore

Written by
  Michael Moore

  Michael Moore

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