Well, at least, Flint’s favorite son hasn’t lost his edge.
Buried a bit deeper in “Capitalism: A Love Story,” Moore’s take on the economic values that hold sway in the U.S., is a more nuanced assertion – that capitalism is antithetical to democracy, that ye cannot serve both Jefferson and Mammon.
As a master polemecist, Moore should know that it’s the second point that could be persuasively argued, especially to a population feeling more and more marginalized by the cruelties of the free-enterprise system.
But “evil”? Really? So, capitalism is on the same par as genocide and torture and pedophilia? Does that mean putting up a lemonade stand is on the same moral level as pulling the wings off of insects?
If you can forgive this simplistic excess, then “Capitalism” delivers yet another dose of merry outrage centered on the ugly meltdown of Wall Street a year ago. Moore is not as focused on his subject as he’s been in his recent films, flitting from the poor pay for airline pilots to the backroom chicanery of Goldman Sachs. But, hey, it’s a big subject.
Moore shows his talent for metaphor right off the bat, as the opening credits roll. There, we see grainy security-camera footage of one desperate bank robbery after another. From there, he goes on to make his case that the current financial system is built solely to benefit thieves.
Before building up to his grand condemnation of Wall Street bankers intent on privatizing profits and socializing losses, Moore meanders through a number of stories meant to bolster his “evil” assertion, such as the odious corporate practice of “dead peasant insurance,” in which companies take out secret life-insurance policies on employees, in many cases making those employees more valuable dead than alive.
The film finds a level of poignancy when Moore brings his own life into the story, with fuzzy old images of him as a kid, living the idealized suburban life back in the good ol’ days of the 1950s and ’60s. He also takes his own father to the lot where the spark-plug plant that employed the elder Moore for decades once stood.
The point here is not that things change and ain’t it a shame. It’s that rapacious elements who find comfort and encouragement in the American financial system have dismantled and made off with the American Dream.
It all builds to a compelling blow-by-blow account of the maddening days of September 2008 when Wall Street imploded on the eve of a critical presidential election. Conservatives might note that, although Moore made Bush’s Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson into a blatant black hat (and spares no vitriol when it comes to Obama’s man in the same job Timothy Geithner), he makes no mention of Obama himself who has done little to lay down the law on Wall Street.
Still, “Capitalism: A Love Story” draws blood and deftly puts it viewpoint in the mainstream of American culture with a haunting clip of President Franklin D. Roosevelt giving an address outlining a “Second Bill of Rights,” which would have guaranteed Americans health care among other goodies. Moore’s assertion that this Bill of Rights would have become law had Roosevelt lived just a bit longer puts forth an idea that afflicts liberals as much as it comforts conservatives: FDR’s New Deal remains unfinished.