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Dustin Putman

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Capitalism: A Love Story  (2009)
2 Stars
Directed by Michael Moore.
2009 – 127 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 18, 2009.
A curious feeling of déjà vu will likely sweep over viewers of "Capitalism: A Love Story," particularly if they have seen political-minded filmmaker Michael Moore's past documentary features. Moore has an undeniable gift for persuasion, and an even bigger gift for turning unfortunate, even depressing, real-world issues into beacons of grand entertainment. As he did with 2002's "Bowling for Columbine" (still his most impressive achievement) and 2004's "Fahrenheit 9/11," Moore knows how to find humor in darkness while truly making an audience feel for his onscreen subjects. When any movie can have you squealing with laughter one minute and wiping away tears the next, it is safe to say it has done its job. Unfortunately, "Capitalism: A Love Story" doesn't cut it, reiterating much of the same material Moore has covered in the past, but with less inspiration. Frequent jabs at snarky humor are mostly stale this time, and there are few moments that touch the heart. More than ever, Moore has upped the manipulation level to a degree where the viewer sees right through his charade. Anyone up on current events and at least passingly familiar with the history of the U.S. will learn few, if any, new insights. What they will learn is that they have seen this all before, and done better, by a director who seems to be going through the paces.

What is capitalism? "A system of taking and giving ... mostly taking," Michael Moore states in narration. At least in today's world, that sounds about right, though one can't help but sense that he spends too much time bashing the wealthy (of which he is certainly one) simply for being wealthy. When he is concentrating more on the crooked side of big business, he is never less than on-target, making point after point about the injustices of banks sucking up the money of a working class that live paycheck to paycheck and then turning around and awarding their own well-off corporate bigwigs with fat bonuses. The adage goes that the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, and that couldn't be more true of the present-day financial situation in America.

Director Michael Moore's human interest stories could have been taken straight from a "20/20" or "Dateline" report, whether it be hard-working people who have been evicted from their homes for missing a few mortgage payments; the closing of Chicago's Bank of America without paying employees the wages they rightfully earned; or the inhumane life insurance policies companies such as Walmart have taken out on sick clients, only to make a mint from their deaths while leaving the grieving families with next to nothing. There is an outrageous segment involving Wilkes-Barre, PA's Judge Mark Ciaverella Jr., who charged teenagers for the most minor offenses imaginable without a proper trial and sentenced them to months at a local juvenile facility. These topics should, again, be familiar to any audience member who keeps up with the news, but there is a relatable emotional truth to them.

Their dramatic levity is more often than not bookended by Moore's own mugging for the camera, whether he is walking up to the bank corporations throughout New York City with big sacks, demanding they give back the money they stole from the American people, or putting up yellow crime scene tape around their buildings. Since nothing comes of these cheap ploys—he is obviously just doing it for the limited space of time that the camera is on—they quickly turn silly and juvenile. The music score, too, is so overbearing at times it almost would work better complimenting a horror movie.

"Capitalism: A Love Story" isn't without a few funny interludes, most of them cheap but successful. A discussion about former President Ronald Reagan segueing into a clip from one of his old movies where he violently slaps a dizzy dame across the face is amusing, and so is a fake "Come to Cleveland" TV spot that fails to entice potential visitors by being brutally honest about its faltering economy. Satire such as this latter example is piercing, yet inconsistent. The majority of the picture is very cut-and-paste, the only new information expounded upon dealing with President Franklin Roosevelt's proposal for a second Bill of Rights that never came to fruition due to his death soon after. As Michael Moore tells it, America would be a far different, more prosperous place had that bill gone through, giving all U.S. citizens rights that, instead, went to Europe and Japan following World War II. Meanwhile, our government's greed has put us in an undesirable situation with limited options. "I refuse to live in a country like this," Moore says near the end, "and I'm not leaving." "Capitalism: A Love Story" has its well-meaning merits, but the material seems oddly regurgitative and Moore's style has begun to show some wear and tear. Instead of making some great impact on the viewer, the experience of watching the film is of the more cynical "been-there-done-that" variety.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman