Even after the confetti from the Michael Moore publicity circus has been swept up, the fact remains: The American health-care system is a mess, and only Moore, among popular filmmakers, is doing anything to explain the situation, using his patented carnival storytelling tools to blur advocacy and entertainment. From the title on, Sicko is outspoken in its dismay that a country as rich and powerful as the United States should force so many of its citizens to gamble on the odds of sustained good health.
But dismay in this case is healthy. With considerably less personal bombast than he laid on in Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore first shows how the profit-driven health-insurance industry got this way. Then he introduces various Americans who have suffered as a result of business as usual. And then he looks at how a few other countries have (in his never-mistaken-for-humble opinion) done health care better: England, France, Canada, and, yes, Cuba. Moore’s doofus persona as an American abroad wears thin — a man who wins awards at Cannes can no longer pass as a rube. And the Cuban escapade, designed to provoke, backfires when he loses focus by including Cuban firefighters in an homage to 9/11 first responders. But the questions Moore leaves viewers with are important, nonpartisan ones. If other countries can provide their people with universal health care, why can’t we? If we can’t, who are we?