Whether one is inclined to agree with his politics or not, Michael Moore cannot be denied as a talented filmmaker. His films, including 2002's gun control-centric "Bowling for Columbine
" and 2004's Bush administration diatribe "Fahrenheit 9/11
," have that innate ability to entertain and inform, to be uproariously funny and sarcastic one moment and heartbreaking and sympathetic the next. A lot has happened in the five years since Moore has become a household name, not the least of which are repeated claims that he manipulates footage and edits in a way that is meant to satisfy his own side of the story. Because of this, what felt genuinely selfless and heartfelt in "Bowling for Columbine
" now holds a faint air of one-sided superficiality.
In his latest effort, "Sicko," Michael Moore rails against the U.S. health-care system. It's a hot-button issue that, at one time or another, affects all American citizens, and its deep flaws demand to be exposed and talked about. For that reason, "Sicko" is an important, as well as critical, motion picture, and fulfills Moore's goal of making the viewer's heart ache at the repugnant greed and hypocrisy that this country's government currently runs on. The filma somber outcry for reformdeserves to be seen and considered. Set aside its well-meaning propaganda, however, and "Sicko" is Moore's weakest documentary to date.
Overly simplistic and not terribly hard-hitting, the movie lacks the explosive collision of painful laughs and cathartic tears that he has been known to produce. Here, the humor is more muted and less clever. The drama is less forceful and yet more forced. And Moore's neglect in asking the really tough questions and filling in all the blanks is something of an annoyance because it is clear he avoids these topics by choice rather than ineptitude. This is an enormously smart guy we're dealing with, and he knows precisely what he is doing in order to get the information he needs to back up his personal beliefs. The rest, it would seem, finds its way to the cutting-room floor.
"Sicko" is most affecting when it narrows in on the intimate struggles of the primarily lower and middle class, recounting real-life horror stories by people financially ruined by the costs of their health insurance or whose total lack thereof prevented them from receiving the medical treatment they needed; one man who severed two fingers, for example, was given the choice of reattaching one or the other for the individual prices of twelve thousand dollars and sixty thousand. In many instances, the film is revelatory, and Moore's across-the-globe traveling to countries without health-care problems, such as Canada and England, is enough to convince the viewer that maybe a move is in order. A trip to a hospital in Great Britain is particularly staggering, with every local patient Moore interviews confirming that their visit has been wholly taken care of by their insurance, not costing them a penny. In fact, the only cashier on duty is there to hand out money (not collect it, mind you) to those who need it for a safe trip home. If other nations have seemingly found the solution to the health-care debate, Moore asks, then why is America, where a person's life is deemed less valuable than the almighty dollar, so desperately behind the times? The answer: the U.S. isn't the wealthiest country in the world for nothing.
"Sicko" is sickening, all right, in the ugly truths it holds and the significant points it wants to make. Between all of that is pacing with less momentum than Michael Moore's past oeuvre, a long-windedness in the substantial stretch set outside of the States, and an overall tackling of a subject that poses more questions than answers. When Moore rallies together a boat filled with Americans needing medical treatment, including three 9/11 responders, and takes them to a hospital in Cuba, the movie naively presents the experience in a way that wraps their troubles up with a tidy bow. Additionally, a concluding chapter in which Moore takes it upon himself to send an anonymous twelve thousand-dollar check to the ill wife of a man who runs an anti-Michael Moore website is off-putting and self-congratulatory. To make such a generous gesture is one thing; to advertise and almost brag about your own generosity in front of a camera for millions of viewers to see is obnoxious and phony.
Reservations notwithstanding, "Sicko" is worth recommending for the provocative disclosures touched upon and the unflattering mirror it dares to place before the government in charge. Will the film make an impact in its call for change? Label me a cynic, but I highly doubt it. What the film can and likely will do is open the floor for a serious discussion about U.S. health-care. At this point, that is the best one can hope for. As imperfect as he is in his treatment, credit Michael Moore for at least broaching the topic and, hopefully, getting the ball rolling.