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At the Movies

September 19, 2009

Showmanship Moore’s top commodity in ‘Capitalism’

HOLLYWOOD — How do you make a movie about the country’s current economic crisis and actually get people to see it?

Two obstacles most obviously arise: illustrating such a potentially dry subject in a compelling way, and persuading audiences to pay money for information they can get at home — and feel depressed about — for free.

Having Michael Moore as our guide certainly helps. Twenty years after he took on General Motors with his powerful debut “Roger & Me,” the proud provocateur is aiming at the same sorts of targets with his latest documentary, “Capitalism: A Love Story.”

This is vintage Moore, reflecting both the filmmaker’s fondness for manipulation and his strengths as a showman. As he did with “Sicko” and “Fahrenheit 9/11,” he typically oversimplifies a complicated topic to make it accessible and amusing for the broadest possible audience. Obviously, when he returns to GM’s headquarters two decades later — and the security guard sees him and his crew coming from a mile away — he’s doing it as a hilarious spectacle and he doesn’t really expect to get into the building for an interview.

It’s good for a laugh, as is so much of “Capitalism.” But Moore also tells moving stories of specific families who’ve lost their homes to foreclosure, or airline pilots whose wages are so low, they rely on secondary jobs and food stamps to survive.

With a big assist from his crack team of archivists, he brilliantly juxtaposes 1950s footage of wholesome guys and gals extolling the virtues of capitalism with all-too familiar shots of contemporary hardship. But we also see home movies of a young, towheaded Moore, excitedly visiting Wall Street from his home in Flint, Mich. — and looking impish even as a child — which will become even more relevant when Moore comes back to the economic vortex in the film’s final, dramatic moments.

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