Film review – Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)

Michael Moore

Writing persuasively about a Michael Moore film seems almost pointless as most people already have pretty strong preconceived ideas about how they feel about him, his politics and his style of documentary making. If you unquestioningly love everything about him then you will love this new film. If you think he is the devil incarnate who has come to steal your precious bodily fluids then this film is not for you. However, if you are genuinely interested in what Moore has to say and you cannot help but be fascinated by the highly successful popularist way he presents his material, then Capitalism: A Love Story is a film worth seeing. It’s Moore’s best and most focused film since Bowling for Columbine and once again it sees him embracing the new journalism ideal of abandoning all pretences of objectivity in order to most effectively make his point. In Capitalism: A Love Story that point is that capitalism is the natural enemy of democracy.

Moore begins his film with a series of comical and fairly obvious sequences. An old piece of stock footage warns us about the disturbing nature of what we are about to see and then the open credits include CCTV footage of banks being robbed. We then see images of modern America being contrasted to images of ancient Rome while the voiceover explains that a civilisation kept distracted by dumb entertainment never noticed the corrupt leadership that brought about its downfall.  Then we get raw footage of a family being evicted from their home and the seriousness of Moore’s film steps in. The broad purpose of Capitalism: A Love Story is to examine how America got from the post-WWII heyday of 1950s materialism up to the current financial crisis. Along the way Moore exposes some specific examples of the capitalist system at its worse by exposing the appalling low pay for commercial airline pilots, a private adolescent jail that was paying judges to sentence children and the widely used “Dead Peasants” practice where corporations secretly take out life insurance policies on their employees, rendering them more profitable dead than alive. However, Moore’s main targets are Wall Street, which he argues is run like a casino, and the alarming influence that the corporate sector has in the White House.

FT1339_09While many of Moore’s stunts, like trying to go into the head offices of the major banks to reclaim bailout money and make citizen’s arrests, often feel a bit mild there is still much to admire about Capitalism: A Love Story. Moore very cleverly enlists the support of various religious leaders, one of whom describes capitalism as ‘radical evil’ that goes against everything Jesus stood for. Moore largely avoids using the dreaded S-word although he does wickedly point out that the current widespread misuse of the word ‘socialism’ has resulted in a new generation who are curious about finding out what socialism actually stands for. However, the most impressive aspect of Capitalism: A Love Story is that Moore demonstrates actual workable alternatives to the system in the form of various co-operative workplaces and successful acts of civil disobedience. There’s hope in this film but there is also a call to arms and Moore’s impatience with the status quo rings out loudly as he parts by telling us, “I refuse to live in a country like this. And I’m not leaving.”

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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