MICHAEL MOORE THROWS all his cards on the table in the opening moments of Capitalism: A Love Story, with an intro that none-too-subtly splices together scenes from a movie about the fall of Rome with shots from contemporary America.
"This is capitalism," he intones over scenes of empires whose decadence is cresting into decay, thanks to corrupt politicians and an indifferent populace. "A system of taking and giving. Mostly taking." We get it, Michael.
Subtlety has never been Moore's strong point, and his send-up of the capitalist system is no more nuanced than his muckraking in previous films like Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11. Anyone with a leftist bent and a passing familiarity with recent headlines will be versed in Moore's rhetoric here, and Moore's methods haven't changed: He's still fundamentally a schlubby, not-particularly-charismatic screen presence. Yet despite all of this, Capitalism works.
The first half of the film feels like a wide-ranging therapy session, as Moore works out his indignation on a variety of issues relating to unchecked and unregulated greed. There's a lot to be mad about, from bank bailouts during the financial crisis to the privatization of juvenile detention centers to the practice of employers taking out secret life insurance policies on their employees, and predictably, Moore's pissed about all of it.
Underneath all the cynicism and silly guerilla stunts, though, Moore operates from a position of hope, and it's no surprise that he's heartened by Obama's election. After the 2009 election the message of the movie shifts to one of hope and resistance, and Capitalism becomes downright inspiring as Moore zeroes in on examples of Americans across the country rejecting the rules of unchecked capitalism. Detroit's police chief decides to stop enforcing foreclosures. Obama expresses his support for striking workers in Chicago. US Representative Marcy Kaptur from Ohio urges families to refuse to leave their foreclosed homes.
Perhaps most effective of all is Moore's inclusion of heartbreaking footage of Franklin D. Roosevelt, only a year before his death, proposing a "second Bill of Rights," one that would've guaranteed all Americans access to work and health care. Here, Moore lets the historical record speak for itself—and it loudly proclaims that our nation's leaders haven't always believed in leaving the people to fend for themselves.
Capitalism isn't a perfect movie, but it's an affecting and effective one—and it's landed at a time when more people than ever are ready to hear its message.