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Film review: 'Capitalism - A Love Story' directed by Michael Moore

By David Calleja - posted Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Michael Moore is back. The self-styled guerilla documentary maker has declared war on capitalism, branding it “inherently evil” and seeks to discredit everything and everyone within sight who has profited from such a system.

Taking his traveling circus on the road, Michael Moore reminds us how for decades, ordinary people were promised a piece of heaven on earth if they worked hard and did everything that the powers that be told them to. For years everything went smoothly, until big business got hold of the agenda, tore it up and said, “We want an open cheque book and a licence to write the rules that suit us”.

Michael Moore’s aim is to track down and return the $USD700 billion lost during the 2008 financial meltdown. Together with his crew, Moore plays the antagonist, naming corporations from the automotive and banking and financial sectors as primary culprits, with assistance from elected officials in Washington DC. He blames the corporate greed and their pals in Washington DC who let it happen over the years, and armed with his camera crew, he wants immediate answers, even though the likelihood is pretty slim.


Throughout the course of the documentary, we are introduced to people who have lost their homes, jobs, life savings, and loved ones. Moore has a knack of taking complex issues and then rephrasing them into everyday English, albeit with an obvious bias. For Moore, catching the culprits unawares is his strength, part of the relentless quest to get answers on behalf of the American people. The one problem with this approach is that he cannot seem to gel the issues together, giving the impression that in Capitalism, he has bitten off more than he can chew.

The film is not without its moments. Witness Moore’s grilling of a Wall Street employee who requires several attempts to explain what a derivative is. Moore ends up defining it as a bet made in an insane casino (his description of the New York Stock Exchange).

He introduces other terms such as "dead peasant insurance" - the term used by banks when cashing in a life insurance policy taken out on a recently deceased individual; and "condo vultures" - real estate agents who profit from selling apartments well below value, after they have been vacated by people who could not afford the mortgage payments.

There are times where Moore adds a dignified touch to Capitalism without resorting to sensationalism. His inclusion of President Franklin Roosevelt’s radio speech and subsequent funeral procession of the wartime leader, along with accompanying narration, shows that Michael Moore can link issues such as democracy and capitalism in proving a point. These moments, however, become secondary to the public spectacles that are associated with Michael Moore’s work.

As expected, Moore’s documentary follows his usual template of pulling off an outlandish stunt, something which takes the focus off the seriousness of the issue. It’s a case of here we go again. His “financial coup d’etat”, where Moore appears outside the headquarters of Goldman Sachs armed with a megaphone, sacks of money bags and a promise to return $USD700 billion, is capable of being pulled off by college pranksters. Hilarious viewing it may be, but at what price? Even a police officer protecting the headquarters of Goldman Sachs seems genuinely embarrassed when Michael Moore tries to barge past in an attempt to make a citizen’s arrest of a CEO. This slapstick journalism is almost an indictment of the serious issue he is attempting to address.

Michael Moore touches on the right issues, but cannot seem to deliver the knockout blow. This film will appeal more to supporters on the political left, and his popularity may even surge because of his tenacity to keep getting under the skin of those who hate him. But even though his reputation as a renegade film maker will still be intact regardless of the success or failure of Capitalism: A Love Story at the box office, at two hours, it lacks the impact that is so desperately required for something of this magnitude.

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About the Author

David Calleja is a freelance writer who is a regular contributor to Foreign Policy Journal and Hack Writers. In 2008, he worked as a teacher and soccer coach in the Internally Displaced Persons camp based in Loi Tailang, Shan State, Burma. His writing focuses on human interest stories in Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. David has also worked as an English teacher in South Korea, China, Thailand and Cambodia. His video depicting the lives of families living on the grounds of Steung Meanchey Waste Dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, A Garbage Diet, can be viewed here.

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