In "Capitalism: A Love Story," Michael Moore's latest documentary -- or "cinematic op-ed piece," as he calls it -- the firebrand director isn't exactly telling you what you don't know.
The economy is in the toilet. Corporations squeeze the little people dry in the best of times, and squeeze them even harder when times get tough (like now). Wall Street runs a crooked numbers game, and when the house of cards built on such incomprehensible financial tools as "derivatives" falls apart, the financial sector comes crying for help from the government -- the same government that Wall Street demands stay out of business' way when things were going their way.
What's fascinating about "Capitalism: A Love Story" is how Moore has grown as a filmmaker, honing his ability to corral stories about everyday people suffering from economic woes -- and marshal those stories into a two-hour screed against a rigged system he argues is anti-American, anti-Christian and, as the last year has shown us, doomed to failure.
There are the farmers who have to leave their foreclosed home, and -- in a twisted irony -- get hired by the bank to clear out their own belongings. There are the corporations that buy "dead peasant" insurance policies on their employees, which name the company as beneficiary if the employee dies. There are the airline pilots for non-unionized regional carriers, so underpaid that some of them take second jobs at Starbucks. There are the Illinois window-factory workers who, fed up that the company hadn't paid them, staged a sit-in in the factory.
Moore's growth as a filmmaker is shown by the fact that he doesn't need, as often, to employ the comical stunts that have marked his past films. He does drive an armored truck up to Wall Street, seeking to retrieve the billions of taxpayer money taken by Wall Street in last year's bailout -- but the real subversive humor of the moment comes when, in a sign of comical outsourcing, it's revealed that Moore's camera crew doesn't speak English.
Moore opens with an educational film about the fall of the Roman Empire, cleverly juxtaposing images of modern America. He ends with a stirring summation that "capitalism is evil" and must be destroyed. He's not talking about the idealistic version of capitalism we learned in school -- the notion (rhapsodized by Moore and his pal Wallace Shawn, the actor and author, in the movie's early passages) that if you make a better ice cream, people will buy it and you will grow rich in a competitive marketplace -- but the crony capitalism that allows corporations to buy off members of Congress to get the lax regulation needed to become robber barons.
Moore's case is, in a way, a culmination of the warnings he issued in his past films: against corporate short-sightedness in "Roger and Me," globalization in "The Big One," the Bush administration in "Fahrenheit 9/11" and health-care greed in "Sicko." "Capitalism: A Love Story" is Moore's loudest, most heartfelt warning, against corporate greed that is ruining his -- and our -- country. It's also a stirring cry to action, urging the people to put in place an economic system that reflects the American values of fair play and democracy.
Michael Moore's back, channeling his anger at corporate greed into his toughest and most heartfelt film yet.
Where » Area theaters.
When » Opens Friday.
Rating » R for some language.
Running time » 120 minutes.