Michael Moore’s smugness and self-aggrandizement sometimes works against his arguments, but the agitprop documentarian has a gift for provocation, and he knows how to simplify (some would say oversimplify) complicated political issues. Moore’s latest cine-essay, Capitalism: A Love Story, is typically Moore-like, for good and for ill. From the moment his ironically lilting voice appears over stock footage from pro-business industrial films, Moore-haters will likely feel the urge to punch something. And as Moore proceeds to trot out a series of disconnected anecdotes as “proof” that the free market is an outmoded concept, even staunch lefties may bristle at the speciousness of his arguments. Capitalism is intended to convince Americans that they’ve bought into an economic system designed to screw them over, but the tone is so smart-ass that it’s bound to put a lot of viewers into a default defensive posture.
Still, Capitalism is intermittently engaging, even persuasive. When Moore describes a Pennsylvania community that disastrously privatized its juvenile detention facility, the story may not show definitively that capitalism is immoral, but it does offer a sharp rebuttal to those who insist that privatization always produces better results than the government. But even that section of the movie—like nearly every other section—would be stronger if Moore allowed the other side to make its best case, rather relying on blurry images from the news and whispered insinuations of conspiracy. In general, Moore seems to put more stock in the opinions of actors and Catholic priests than he does in actual economic decision-makers. (Or maybe it’s just that almost no one in a position of responsibility will talk to him anymore.)
The biggest problem with Capitalism, though, is that it feels oddly out of touch. In the current political climate, the kind of angry average American that Moore has spent a lifetime championing is more likely to be out in the streets yelling for the heads of liberals like himself, while the kind of people sympathetic to Moore’s causes are likely watching The Daily Show and reading The Daily Dish. Given that the “tea party” movement was gaining momentum while Moore was putting this movie together, it would’ve been genuinely dramatic to see him take his cameras into that throng to argue the virtues of socialism, rather than shooting yet another scene outside an inaccessible corporate office. Capitalism shows that Moore is still capable of making valid points in an entertaining way, but too often, the movie consists of Moore reading yesterday’s headlines, snidely.