Capitalism: A Love Story (Review)

Michael Moore calls us to arms in his rabble-rousing new documentary

Forgive me for saying this, but it seems like Michael Moore has always been with us. What I mean is that Moore, the progressive filmmaker, has been schlumping around with his trusty camera and crew documenting his quixotic attempts to shine a little light on the forces arrayed against middle-class Americans (in other words, since the Mayflower ran aground).

And while I wholeheartedly agree with his political viewpoint, I can't always abide by his debate-engagement techniques. Call me self-righteous, but often his onesided approach smacks of dipping into the same bag of tricks the opposing side abuses, and I dream of a world where one side — ideally the one I support — would rise above the low-down-dirty fray.

Ultimately, though, what ends up saving Moore, in my estimation, is the sense that in his bumbling form there is a personal stake in the argument. Going all the way back 20 years to Roger & Me, his first documentary feature, it is plain to see that Moore cares about the impact of the collapse of GM on Flint, Mich., and he wants to find someone to hold accountable. We understand that this basic level of responsibility was an ingrained part of his acknowledged middle-classed upbringing; it was part and parcel of what it meant to be American.

He has gone forward from that point, each film, no matter how much of a smirking smartass Moore becomes in his efforts to call out and embarrass those who likely cannot be shamed, he remains a caring Middle American.

He returns 20 years later with a bookend of sorts to Roger & Me. Capitalism: A Love Story documents Moore’s mission to lay the blame for the financial crisis at the feet of American political and business interests. An intriguing angle for the film’s attack stems from the notion that a blurring of the lines has taken place in terms of how we discuss political and economic philosophies. Moore’s position is that democracy and capitalism have become the same thing. Business has usurped and bastardized the democratic process for its own aims and it is time for a revolt, a potentially violent overthrow of the system.

Moore interviews financial industry professionals who are unable to explain in simple language the definition of a derivative but have amassed great fortunes at the expense of everyday workers and homeowners thanks to this term. He gives screen time to truly maverick politicians, those willing to call the situation what it is — a crime against Americans.

And, sadly, Moore also grants equal time to the proprietor of a shady real-estate outfit that assists buyers eager to capitalize on the massive number of foreclosures for a quick profit.

It is fascinating to hear the defense of this growing financial underbelly, which amounts to little more than an assertion that everything is legal, completely ignoring the moral and ethical questions inherent in such practices.

In assessing Capitalism: A Love Story, though, it is easy to get lost in the ideological gamesmanship of Moore’s tactics. But this time I believe he challenges audiences on both sides of the issue by allowing us to see the personal and philosophical toll. Not just in the stories of families being thrown out of their homes or even the galvanizing efforts of Chicago union workers to fight for back pay after their company closed, but for Moore himself. He spends time in front of the camera with his father scanning the empty lot where his father worked years ago. He talks about his Catholic upbringing and then features priests and bishops actively engaged in the support of social justice.

To my mind, this is a love story, and America couldn’t ask for a more affectionate and steadfast lover. Grade: A

Check out theaters and show times, see the film's trailer and find nearby bars and restaurants here.

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