Thursday, October 8, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story film review

Capitalism: A Love Story starts out with scenes from bank robberies over the opening credits. Then we get one of those old time educational films about the fall of the Roman Empire with the narrator telling us that the fall was from corruption and the wide discrepancy between the rich and the poor. Director Michael Moore cuts scenes of the Roman Empire with modern shots, one featuring former Vice President Dick Cheney. It becomes obvious that Moore is making the point that our modern society is being corrupted by capitalism with today's bankers being the robbers. The irony is that Moore is going to make money from this film, so the system that he is criticizing is also feeding him. That being said, the question becomes is this film any good?

Capitalism: A Love Story comes out at a time of great economic upheaval. After last fall's near financial collapse, Moore now comes full circle from his "Roger and Me" documentary which depicted the closing of auto plants by GM that led to the devastation of his home town Flint, Michigan. Along with heartbreaking scenes of people getting thrown out of their homes, Moore in Capitalism, also details his personal journey when the American dream was alive and well. What happened to the American dream? Like most liberals, he blames Ronald Reagan. It was under President Reagan's regime that the forces of capitalism were unleashed on Wall Street. There's giddy happiness when you see scenes of businessmen with a chain saw over a stack of regulations. Of course, these regulations were designed to safeguard the system from depression like collapses. So it becomes prescient when in 2008 the system almost collapses. Moore tries to explain modern and risky financial instruments like derivatives that led to the crisis. That becomes hilarious when the experts have trouble defining it.

Moore also examines the moral view of capitalism. First, by asking his Catholic priests. It is surprising to find out after interviewing three priests, that their views are negative towards capitalism. Well, maybe not that surprising since Jesus spoke how difficult it was for a rich man to get into heaven. The surprising thing is when Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal says capitalism is more important than democracy. Boy, that's American. Michael Moore then hammers the point home though when his film shows that companies were taking out life insurance policies on their employees with the company being the beneficiary. It is the excess of capitalism that Moore has problems with, the maximize your profits that he argues is wrecking the nation.

Capitalism: A Love Story is fascinating, sad and funny. It at times suffers from a simplistic message. Last fall's financial crisis is too complicated to just say that the bailout or TARP was similar to bankers robbing the U.S. Treasury. I question if Moore would rather have the United States go down into the great depression, part II. On the other hand, critics of Moore who say he offers no solutions to the excess of capitalism are wrong. He does. It is democracy. In the film, there is an example of a company that is owed by the employees where the wealth is distributed evenly. It's still capitalism but not dominated by a tiny percentage that is only interested in their own wealth.

So, how does one judge this film? If you are on right side of the political spectrum, i.e. a conservative, you're going to hate this movie. As a conservative you want to blame the financial meltdown of 2008 on the poor who could not afford the homes that they received loans on. If you are a liberal, you're going to agree with Moore and scream "Amen." If you are in the center, you will look at this film as a riveting and entertaining essay on the excesses of capitalism. Well made, the grade for the movie is A.

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