the 20-year anniversary of his groundbreaking masterpiece Roger & Me, Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story comes home to the issue he's been examining throughout his career: the disastrous impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of Americans (and by default, the rest of the world).
But this time the culprit is much bigger than General Motors, and the crime scene far wider than Flint, Michigan. From Middle America, to the halls of power in Washington, to the global financial epicenter in Manhattan, Michael Moore will once again take filmgoers into uncharted territory.
Michael Moore is one of the few directors who knows how to consistently stir up controversy and fuel debate with each film he produces. Just the mere mention of his name and folks immediately pick sides to defend or lambaste the ideas expressed by the grandstanding documentarian. Probably more so than any other filmmaker working today, Moore possesses one of the largest love him or hate him relationships with the moviegoing audience. But no matter the political standpoint from which one approaches his documentaries, there is no denying he sheds light on important issues the public should consider and provokes discussion. With 'Capitalism: A Love Story', Moore has perhaps created his most significant and timely film yet, examining the failure of the banking industry and our current economic situation.
The film commences with an amusing political quip and satire comparing the fall of the Roman Empire with our own contemporary downturn. The unfortunate similarities are not meant to be laugh-out-loud funny as much as they are peculiar and ironic. We are immediately made to think that our country has perhaps reached such an apex of civil order as to weigh ourselves against one of the world's largest and most powerful empires in human history. They, too, saw the decline of their western kingdom during a political and financial crisis that began almost two hundred years before the last official emperor, Romulus Augustus, was finally overthrown. Is it possible we might be met with a similar fate in a few more years? Moore seems to imply that the parallels are already there. He's just trying to make us aware of them.
It's not easy to dispute this notion or some of the points presented by the film when next we are shown home videos of people forcefully being evicted from their homes. Sheriff Officers are seen literally breaking the door down as if raiding the house of narcotics dealers or in search of fugitives. Another video tells the distressing tale of the Hacker family being unexpectedly asked by sheriffs to leave their home, a farmland that has been in their family for four generations. Though Moore doesn't mention it, we are today obviously faced with a recession crises that rivals the Great Depression, and here, we witness those who feel its effects the sharpest. How is it possible that people are losing jobs and homes in record numbers in this day and age? And this isn't an issue of those with better education or skills having a sense of security during these hard times. Everyone is in trouble!
Airline pilots are forced to live at poverty level and "just get by" with two or three jobs while still expected to fly commercial airplanes. We even watch Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger deliver congressional testimony advising others to not seek a career in commercial flying because the pay is so poor. This should anger and outrage many viewers that such skilled professionals are treated with so little regard, and that average Americans have such difficulty in paying a mortgage with a high interest rate. By sharp contrast, certain heads of state with plenty of money are allowed special treatment and discounts by Countrywide Financial. It's maddening to see a memo which circulated through the offices of Citigroup readily proclaiming our country as a "plutonomy". It's infuriating to see seats in the administration filled by employees of Goldman Sachs.
Unfortunately, right when you think that Moore might prove himself at his most incisive and astute, frustrating his viewers just enough to organize and rally against the injustice, he overdoes it with his typical antics of brash, showy exhibition. He stands in front of the offices of American International Group, Inc with a bullhorn, demanding they repay taxpayer money. He places yellow crime scene tape around some of the major financial institutions, and he even shows up to some of these same buildings with a large money sack and armored truck. As noble as Moore may think his actions to be, the stunts are clearly meant for the camera and are frankly not convincing or persuasive. At least not nearly as much as the interviews and heartbreaking stories of real people who have felt the immediate impact of capitalist greed. As an example: It is simply unbelievable that companies can actually profit from the death of their employees ("Dead Peasants Insurance").
In spite of all Moore's shenanigans, what really matters is the stuff in between -- the realities and consequences of heartless greed and corruption which have been ignored for far too long. Though the anecdotes are obviously used to sway and direct our emotions, they can't easily be rebuffed and none are economical with the truth (pun intended). These are genuine, hard-working Americans being treated as second-rate, inferior individuals because the ideals of capitalism have evolved into a gluttonous, power-hungry machine of "more is never enough". Where there once use to exist a middle class with the available opportunity to climb financially higher and live worry-free there is now an ever more palpable and apparent hierarchy of "The Haves and Have-Nots". The principles of the free market have also been transformed, from ones in which everyone was equally at risk to compete and fail (the laissez-faire philosophy) to ones in which small businesses are collapsing while big businesses are saved with bailouts (something which falls very close to a regulated market or a governmental monopoly).
The film's most powerful and valuable moment is archival footage of a fragile Franklin D. Roosevelt asking for a Second Bill of Rights, guaranteeing all Americans jobs, homes, free education, and what today would be seen as universal healthcare. The pledge was certainly a hopeful one, and had the government at the time seen it through, one can only wonder what our country would be like today. As Moore ends 'Capitalism: A Love Story', there is a sense of possibility and hope in a President who has already changed history. We watch a sit-down strike from employees demanding better treatment. We watch a family return to their home and stand against the bank by refusing to leave. We watch as Sheriff Warren Evans in Michigan announces a suspension on home evictions in his county. But as promising as these portrayals appear, it is somewhat difficult to share in the enthusiasm.
As long as I can drive to the next town over and see the Wal-Mart parking lot with families living in their cars, I am reminded of how lucky my family and I have been through all this. While I continue to drive to work every day and see house after house with a for-sale and foreclosure signs on the front lawn, it is not easy to believe things are suddenly turning better. After reading that InFocus Corp. has cut its workforce by 30 percent last October and thousands of other jobs across the U.S. are being eliminated every week, hope seems to be the only thing many Americans have left to live on. And when I read that Senator Jim Bunning blocks a vote to extend unemployment benefits and subsidized health insurance for 1.2 million people when they need it most, it is very difficult to think that those with special interest and all the wealth will ever want to do anything for the common good of their fellow citizens. If for nothing else, at least 'Capitalism: A Love Story' can create discussion and debate about an issue everyone sees happening everywhere.
Showing this has been a conflict since the second half of the 19th century, I'll end with two quotes. The first is from Frederick T. Martin's The Passing of the Idle Rich:
We are not politicians or public thinkers; we are the rich; we own America; we got it, God knows how, but we intend to keep it if we can by throwing all the tremendous weight of our support, our influence, our money, our political connection, our purchased senators, our hungry congressmen, our public-speaking demagogues into the scale against legislation, any political platform, any Presidential campaign, that threatens the integrity of our estate.
And the second is from Abraham Lincoln:
The habits of our whole species fall into three great classes -- useful labour, useless labour, and idleness. Of these, the first only is meritorious, and to it all the products of labour rightfully belong; but the two latter, while they exist, are heavy pensioners upon the first, robbing it of a large portion of its just right. The only remedy for this is to, so far as possible, drive useless labour and idleness out of existence.
Michael Moore's latest documentary arrives with a mostly strong 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer (1.78:1) that never really calls attention to itself but accomplishes what it sets out to do. Shot with the use of HD cameras and mixed with archival footage, the picture has its moments of high-def goodness as well as exposing some of its drawbacks. For the most part, colors are accurate and stable with the primaries showing the greatest advantage. Contrast and brightness levels are generally well-balanced, revealing a good amount of clarity and detail. Ignoring the home videos and lower-rez clips, the movie shows the benefits of filming in the higher resolution in many sequences, such as interviews or when Moore pulls some of his stunts. But there are also times when the image exhibits a few imperfections worth noting. Occasionally, posterization and color banding noticeably rear their ugly heads while contrast will suddenly spike in a couple of scenes. Other than that, the picture quality of this Blu-ray edition of 'Capitalism' is quite favorable.
The real surprise of the package is an audio presentation that's much better than it really needs to be. Although it's far from displaying the benefits of the format, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack has its moments much like the video. The musical selection really takes full advantage of the higher resolution and spreads itself across the entire soundstage with some light bleeding in the rear speakers, pleasantly enhancing the soundfield. Dynamic range is clean and wide while low bass is adequate in providing some depth to the lossless mix. Given the nature of the film, surround sound is practically non-existent -- outside of the music -- as the front-heavy track delivers all ambient effects in the three main channels. Being a documentary, vocals are of the utmost importance, and they are clear and intelligible from beginning to end. Overall, the audio is quite nice and enjoyable.
The supplemental package for this Blu-ray edition of 'Capitalism: A Love Story' is an interesting one to say the least. What the studio would have us think is a large collection featurettes is actually nothing more than a selection of deleted scenes and extended interviews. For those who enjoyed the documentary, they make a good watch.
'Capitalism: A Love Story' may be Michael Moore's most important documentary yet because it is also his most timely, abstract, and immediate film thus far. Although some of his shenanigans tend to intrude on what truly matters, the film's examination of our current economic downturn will surely be the cause of much debate. The Blu-ray edition debuts with a good Audio/Video presentation and a heavy collection of deleted and extended scenes. Many will want to give it a rent first, while those who enjoyed the topics covered will be happy with a purchase.