Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story is a blistering, mad-as-hell indictment of everything in America that, according to Moore, has led to our current state of economic peril. The back-scratching greed and corruption, the cult of Wall Street as a casino for elites, the subprime mortgage vendors who operated like loan sharks: Moore pulls the big picture together, and much of the movie (about three-fifths of it) is urgent, unsettling, and mischievously funny. Yet I wish — oh, how I wish — that Moore had restrained himself from painting America’s sins with too broad a brush. Pointing his finger at ”capitalism” Moore sounds a little too much like Rush Limbaugh getting hot under the collar about ”socialism.” In both cases, they?re not making an argument — they?re demonizing a word.
Early on, Moore, who narrates the movie in his trademark tone of bedtime-fairy-tale sarcasm, creates a memorable montage of the ’50s and ’60s, taking us back to a more secure and, in some ways, egalitarian America. For Moore, the transformative moment was the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Capitalism: A Love Story is most potent when it shows us what the financial desperation and ruthless corporate squeezing that descended from that era now look like. There’s an astonishing section about companies that take out life-insurance policies on their employees, profiting from their deaths, and Moore squeezes a great deal of symbolic mileage out of the fact that airline pilots have been reduced to beleaguered wage slaves who routinely make less than $20,000 a year. Then there’s the federal government’s $700 billion bank bailout, which for Moore is a conspiracy, an officially sanctioned robbery.
Here, as in the health-care doc Sicko (2007), Moore’s real subject is the collapse of the social contract. That’s a powerful theme, but why did he have to make the film’s villain nothing less than?capitalism itself? Moore depicts the very concept of American free enterprise as inherently unjust. But even if you believe that deregulation in the ’80s went too far, that unchecked capitalism is a voracious beast that can eat a culture alive, you may have a hard time swallowing the film’s finale, in which Moore trashes our system as ”evil” and pushes for a citizens’ ”revolt.” At its best, Capitalism: A Love Story is a searing outcry against the excesses of a cutthroat time. At its worst, it’s dorm-room Marxism. B