Michael Moore's "Capitalism" economical with facts

Mon Sep 7, 2009 8:22pm EDT
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By Deborah Young

VENICE (Hollywood Reporter) - Twenty years after "Roger & Me" introduced Michael Moore to the world as a politically engaged documentary maker with a strong knack for showmanship, "Capitalism: A Love Story" sums up his disgust with corporate America and its devastating effect on the lives of ordinary people.

Ending on the notes of the "Internationale" as Moore theatrically encircles New York banks with crime scene tape, the film launches a call for socialism via a popular uprising against the evils of capitalism and free enterprise. Although it's less focused than "Sicko" or "Fahrenheit 9/11," this competition entry is a typical Moore oeuvre: funny, often over the top and of dubious documentation, but with strongly made points that leave viewers much to ponder and debate after they walk out of the theater.

The Paramount Vantage/Overture release opens in limited release on September 23 in New York and Los Angeles.

Simplifications are Moore's stock-in-trade, and his documentaries are not known for their impeccable research and objectivity. But here his talent is evident in creating two hours of engrossing cinema by contrasting a fast-moving montage of 50s archive images extolling free enterprise with the economic disaster of the present. Given the desperate state of the world economy, this provocative film should find attentive audiences along with many angry detractors who will give it free publicity.

As in his previous films, Moore is himself the chief character, offscreen narrator and investigator. Wearing his inseparable baseball cap and T-shirt, he pretends wide-eyed surprise as his interview subjects recount personal dramas related to America's economic meltdown. These are genuinely moving stories: a couple whose farm is in foreclosure, a family that discovers the father's company has taken out a lucrative insurance policy and earned $5 million on his premature death, tearful workers whose factory is suddenly shut down, commercial airline pilots so underpaid they live on food stamps.

Moore has assembled a collection of nearly unbelievable horror stories to illustrate why capitalism and democracy do not go hand in hand, like a privately owned juvenile correctional facility, which paid the local judge to jail teens for misdemeanors. Even the Catholic Church is marshaled in support of his argument, and Moore finds several priests and a bishop who condemn capitalism as an immoral and incompatible with Jesus and the Bible.

The second half of the film is even more chilling in suggesting, through interviews with a number of worried members of Congress, that the country's $700 billion bailout was legalized bank robbery, a "financial coup d'etat" run through Congress just before elections and engineered principally by Goldman Sachs and Henry Paulson.Though it blames all political parties, including the Democrats, for caving in with the bailout, the film is careful to spare President Barack Obama, who remains a symbol of hope for justice. His support for the workers who stage a sit-in at their factory is paralleled to Franklin D. Roosevelt's call for a new bill of rights -- never implemented -- guaranteeing universal health care.

(Editing by Dean Goodman at Reuters)

<p>U.S. director Michael Moore (L) and his wife Kathleen Glynn pose for photographers on the red carpet at the 66th Venice Film Festival September 6, 2009. REUTERS/Tony Gentile</p>