Capitalism: A Love Story(2009)
- RatedNC16 /GenreDocumentary
Rating: 2 out of 5
Among Michael Moore's now-famous themes: Gun culture (Bowling For Columbine); the lies behind George W. Bush's War on Terror (Fahrenheit 9/11); America's ailing healthcare system (Sicko).
Moore burst onto the American documentary scene in 1989 with Roger & Me. At the time, his tactic of hounding General Motors' then-CEO Roger Smith to seek an explanation for mass layoffs, was not only entertaining, but ideologically poignant - scruffy, middle-class David was demanding answers from fat cat Goliath.
Roger & Me struck a chord with the public, becoming the most successful documentary in history at the time of its theatrical run. There were two major reasons for this:
1) Moore had shown a knack for identifying key malaises in American society, and his in-depth investigation into one microcosmic issue served to illuminate greater problems and anxieties plaguing the rest of the country.
2) His style was confrontational, witty, and unabashedly populist. He did nothing to hide his partisan agendas, and pursued his objectives with fiery passion and humour. The pudgy man was a loveable shit-stirrer.
That was twenty years ago. Since then, Moore's success has inevitably undermined his street credibility. The man's sense of empathy and intellectual outrage has also been overshadowed by ideological posturing.
That tendency reached its height with Fahrenheit 9/11, and continues with Capitalism: A Love Story.
Here, Moore returns to a familiar theme, and his treatise on the ills of the free market is powerfully introduced with images of ordinary folk being violently evicted from their homes in the morass of subprime mortgage failures.
But while these foreclosures suggest larger, more complicated problems in the American economy, Moore's eschews the challenge of delving deeper. How did America, as a whole, come to this state of affairs? Excess deregulation of the financial markets is one explanation. But what else?
Moore is not interested in exploring such intricacies. He certainly never addresses the greed and gullibility of the average American consumer, whose blind pursuit of the 'American Dream' may nowadays be more aptly described as 'living beyond one's means'.
Though Moore does chastise the players of the Wall Street-George W. Bush establishment - in truth, who hasn't? - his main point seems to be that the system of capitalism is itself is a spiritual evil, over and above the unscrupulous entrepreneurs who exploited it.
That is a shallow premise on which to drive a feature documentary, and Capitalism doesn't offer any solutions other than sweeping calls for democratic action. The film is a frustrating disappointment; an underwhelming testament to Moore's bewilderment, and America's helplessness, in the face of economic mismanagement and global competition.
Ken Kwek is a screenwriter and playwright. His film credits include the award-winning documentary, The Ballad of Vicki and Jake (2005), The Blue Mansion, directed by Glen Goei, and Kidnapper (2010), directed by Kelvin Tong. His latest play, The Composer, will be staged at The Esplanade Theatre Studio in December this year.