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Overall Rating

Awesome: 15.79%
Worth A Look36.84%
Average: 5.26%
Pretty Bad36.84%
Total Crap: 5.26%

2 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Capitalism: A Love Story
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Moore Is Less This Time Around"
2 stars

Over the years, I have generally praised the rabble-rousing documentaries made by rabble-rousing filmmaker Michael Moore and in almost every case, I have been accused by some people of being a depraved atheistic communist who should put his personal politics aside (unless they happen to agree with those complaining, of course) and stick to talking about movies. (Hell, I not only had an editor pull that in regards to my review of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” he even went so far as to place a Bush/Cheney re-election ad smack-dab in the middle of my review--a move that only hastened my eventual departure from that particular website.) In many of those cases, I have written back to those people (at least the polite ones or those whose yearnings for my eventual demise weren’t too specific) and informed them that while I may allow myself to toss the occasional political jibe into a review in order to humor myself (that is, after all, one of the perks of having one’s own column), my opinions regarding Moore’s films (or those made by anyone else) are based entirely on how they work on cinematic terms and not on how close they hew to my own personal political leanings. It is true that I agree with the underlying views that Moore has presented over the years in his films, the reason that I have admired them so much is because they work as films--they are funny, sad, angry, passionate works that manage to make serious points while still coming across as remarkably entertaining and compulsively watchable. In fact, I suspect that it is that he doesn’t make boring, middle-of-the-road documentaries featuring lots of talking heads and a dully even-handed tone that infuriates many of his critics--if he did, no one would care about them enough in the first place.

I can only hope that some of those who have complained over the years are still reading these reviews because Moore’s latest opus, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” finally allows me the chance to prove that what I have been saying over the years is true. While I agree philosophically with pretty much every point made in the film, I cannot in good conscience recommend it because it is a scattershot mess in which Moore takes what should have been a slam-dunk topic and presents it with all the élan and grace of a gifted-but-undisciplined high school student who has put off working on his big presentation for his current events class and who just slaps a bunch of random stuff together at the last second, most of it being little more than slight variations of stuff he has already done in the past, in the hopes that he can coast by on the strength of his name and reputation. The result is an utterly frustrating work that contains a few genuinely affecting moments that wind getting lost amidst so much tired and fairly patronizing junk that it often feels like a parody of his earlier films produced by right-wingers as a way to discredit him.

Using a combination of straightforward reporting, heart-rending interviews, archival stock footage and outrageous street theater, Moore takes us on a guided tour of capitalism--at least the American offshoot in which practically anything is considered to be acceptable as long as it produces a significant financial profit, no matter how many people are left in the dust in the process--and illustrates how its failings have helped to lead our country to the brink of moral and financial apocalypse. We see a family who is not only being put out into the street as the result of a mortgage gone wrong, they wind up accepting a $1000 payment from the people evicting them to clean up and empty the house themselves. We go on a tour with a real-estate agent who specializes in dealing in foreclosed properties (his company is called “Condo Vultures”). We learn about how major companies are secretly taking life insurance policies out on employees with themselves as the beneficiaries in the hopes of making money off of their deaths with the so-called “dead peasant” policies. We discover that over 60 million mortgage foreclosures have been run through Moore’s hometown of Flint, a grim reminder that the city wasn’t an anomaly as much as it was ahead of the curve. And, of course, we learn just how the major banks were able to do these things with the help of elected officials, Republicans and Democrats alike, and, when it all finally went wrong, how they were able to convince those same officials to give them billions of dollars in bailout money as a reward for creating a financial crisis extensive enough to rival the Great Depression in size and scope.

In theory, “Capitalism: A Love Story” sounds like the perfect set-up for one of Moore’s rabble-rousing polemics but something evidently went very wrong along the way because in practice, it is pretty much a tone-deaf mess from the get-go. The key fundamental problem with the film is that this time around, he doesn’t really seem to have any idea about the story that he is trying to tell or what he is trying to say. Yes, “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko” both utilized similarly scattershot narrative structures but in those cases, they still had central ideas that they were working towards. Here, he is clearly mad at the financial crisis but he doesn’t seem to have any governing thought about where to direct that anger--is it capitalism in general or the banks that should be held responsible?--and instead of settling on one and focusing on skewering them mercilessly (and a case could easily be made for either one), he jumps back and forth between the two so abruptly that he is never able to work up a consistent head of anger towards either one. (Then again, what can you expect from a film that brings in actor/playwright Wallace Shawn as its central economic theorist?) As a result, when the film reaches its climax, things have gotten so muddled that the expected grand call to action instead devolves into a self-serving monologue about how Moore almost can’t do this sort of thing anymore. In addition, his directorial touch, which has never exactly been known for its subtlety over the years, is so heavy-handed this time around that even his fans may recoil at his attempts to manipulate their emotions with such touches as cheesy musical cues and a man reading a letter to his dead wife, one of the aforementioned “dead peasants,” on camera while his children sit weeping in the background. Moore is a much better filmmaker than this and using such shameless tactics is, pardon the expression, totally bush league.

What is especially disappointing this time around is how badly Moore’s satirical touch has failed him this time around. His deployment of ironically chosen found footage, ranging from educational films about the fall of Rome to Ronald Reagan slugging Angie Dickinson in “The Killers,” is so thuddingly obvious that it becomes cringeworthy after a while. As for his man-on-the-street stunts, they are, for the most part, variations of things that he has already done in his previous films--arriving at various corporate headquarters unannounced to demand interviews, make citizens arrests or try to retrieve billions in taxpayer money--and after a while, even he seems a little bored with the shtick. Other jokes, such as redubbing the soundtrack of “Jesus of Nazareth” to give Jesus a more business-oriented slant, are on the level of particularly uninspired YouTube shorts--you keep waiting for another revamp of that scene from “Downfall” with Hitler screaming about the mortgage crisis. Frankly, the funniest moment in the entire film comes from an anonymous financial analyst who Moore buttonholes on the street--when the guy is asked if he has any advice to share, his unhesitating answer is “Stop making movies.”

“Capitalism: A Love Story” does have a few strong and affecting moments here and there, the best of the bunch being the recounting of how the workers at Chicago’s Republic Windows and Doors factory learned that the plant was closing and that they wouldn’t receive any severance pay and responded by barricading themselves inside and refusing to leave until they were given what they were owed. The thing about this particular portion of the film is that it contains a straightforward narrative that hasn’t been goosed with manipulative editing or musical cues to help make its points. In fact, if Moore had simply made an entire film about this particular incident, he might have had something that would have solidly made his points about the current economy while still telling a story that would resonate with viewers. Don’t get me wrong, I still admire Moore and his willingness to put himself on the line with each of his projects. However, as this film quickly proves, he clearly needs to find a fresh cinematic approach for his big-screen provocations or he runs the risk of coming across as being just as broken and out of touch as his subject.

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originally posted: 10/02/09 14:00:00
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This film is listed in our political documentary series. For more in the Political Documentary series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Venice International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Venice International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/09/10 abs i liked his other films but here he's just ignorant playing on emotions rather than facts. 2 stars
5/12/10 Dane Youssef Here it is. Moore's requiem, magnum opus. His career, life has been leading to this head. 5 stars
2/23/10 porfle If you pay to see this movie, you're part of the problem. 3 stars
10/25/09 Suzz Vintage Moore 4 stars
10/07/09 John Aster C it 4 what it is a story of capitalism gone wrong the parts of Rome and Christ r the best 5 stars
9/28/09 millersxing Moore asks Why don't Americans take back gov't from lobbyists. He's right. 5 stars
9/24/09 Phineas Moore is THE greediest Capitalist PIG of all - and LIES about it, like ALL RICH LEFTISTS. 1 stars
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  23-Sep-2009 (R)
  DVD: 09-Mar-2010


  DVD: 29-Dec-2009

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Michael Moore

Written by
  Michael Moore


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