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The Auteurs Daily: Venice and Toronto. Capitalism: A Love Story


The Auteurs Daily

Capitalism: A Love Story

"Michael Moore - who has made a fortune out of attacking America's obsession with guns, its health care system and the Iraq war - is not a man to hold his tongue and doff his cap," notes Arifa Akbar in the Independent. "In an outburst at the Venice Film Festival that could spell the end of his Hollywood career, Moore turned on a roomful of executives from the film company that bankrolled his latest movie and ridiculed them as the perfect example of a capitalist corporation he criticises in his new film, before pointing out that he is now wealthy enough to make his own."

Well. Onto the reviews, then.

"By returning to his roots, professional gadfly Michael Moore turns in one of his best films with Capitalism: A Love Story," writes Leslie Felperin in Variety. "Pic's target is less capitalism qua capitalism than the banking industry, which Moore skewers ruthlessly, explaining last year's economic meltdown in terms a sixth-grader could understand. That said, there's still plenty here to annoy right-wingers, as well as those who, however much they agree with Moore's politics, just can't stomach his oversimplification, on-the-nose sentimentality and goofball japery."

Screen's Mike Goodridge: "The formula is the same as before - dips into history, a series of illustrative cases, the big stunt - only this time showman Moore wears his bleeding heart idealism on his sleeve more happily than before as he clearly hopes for a new golden era under Obama."

"Michael Moore is this generation's Frank Capra," argues Guy Lodge at In Contention. "By that token, Capitalism: A Love Story - an artlessly effective slice of rah-rah rhetoric more sincerely idealistic than anything the director has yet put his name to - represents Moore's It's a Wonderful Life.... [H]e remains resolutely (and perhaps still necessarily) the people's filmmaker: sneer if you like, but sometimes the obvious needs to be stated, and in an obvious fashion at that."

Next stop, Toronto.

Updates: For Empire's Damon Wise, Capitalism "is arguably his best since Fahrenheit 9/11 and, although flawed, it's quite a worthy successor. It's highly possible that Moore may revisit the film after the reviews he reads in the next few days, so some of these flaws may not make the release version, but on the evidence of the festival cut, Moore may have another hit on his hands. Not on the scale of F911 but better than any documentary about the recent financial crisis could ever expect to be."

"Capitalism: A Love Story does not quite measure up to Moore's Sicko in its cumulative power, and it is unlikely to equal Fahrenheit 9/11 in political impact," writes Mary Corliss for Time. "In many ways, though, this is Moore's magnum opus: the grandest statement of his career-long belief that big business is screwing the hard-working little guy while government connives in the atrocity.... The question remains: will Capitalism: A Love Story rouse the rabble to revolt? Or will audiences sit appreciatively through the movie, then go home and play the cat-in-the-toilet video?"

"Simplifications are Moore's stock-in-trade, and his documentaries are not known for their impeccable research and objectivity," writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. "But here his talent is evident in creating two hours of engrossing cinema by contrasting a fast-moving montage of 50s archive images extolling free enterprise with the economic disaster of the present. Given the desperate state of the world economy, this provocative film should find attentive audiences along with many angry detractors who will give it free publicity."

"Borderline incoherent, grossly-oversimplified, intermittantly powerful almost despite itself, it's the usual barrage of cheap shots and rapid-fire arguments, with Moore displaying all the nuanced economic and political analysis he bought to Rage Against the Machine's 'Sleep Now in the Fire' video." Shane Danielsen at indieWIRE: "Nothing if not simplistic, his technique is also in danger of becoming over-familiar."

"Moore's conclusion?" The Guardian's Xan Brooks: "That capitalism is both un-Christian and un-American, an evil that deserves not regulation but elimination. No doubt he had concluded all this anyway, well in advance of making the film, but no matter. There is something energising - even moving - about the sight of him setting out to prove it all over again. Like some shambling Columbo, he amasses the evidence, takes witness statements from the victims and then starts doorstepping the guilty parties."

Updates, 9/7: "Whether Capitalism: A Love Story reflects a better form of political documentary filmmaking than something like Alex Gibney's Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room or Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott's The Corporation is highly doubtful," writes David Jenkins in Time Out London. "But if you want to know which film is most likely to have you storming out of the cinema and throwing a brick through the window of your local bank, Moore has the competition sewn up."

"Alongside the attacks on the capitalist fat cats," notes Geoffrey MacNab in the Independent, "Moore celebrates Americans who've fought back: workers who stage sit-ins, local residents who stop foreclosures, priests and economic gurus who speak out against the evils of capitalism. There's no mention of Marx. Instead, Moore extols a version of American democracy embodied by Presidents like Roosevelt and Carter who had a basic sense of decency and fair play."

"Despite, or perhaps because of, his weakness for crass manipulation, Moore mounts a persuasive case that all is not well with America," notes Wendy Ide in the London Times. "Thanks to his trademark use of archive footage and witty, playful editing, this film is as much entertainment as it is a polemic."

"It's proof of Moore's bravura that we can see through these techniques and still be swept along by the sheer force of the film's righteous anger," finds Lee Marshall in the Evening Standard.

Capitalism: A Love Story

Updates, 9/14: "This is a damning and depressing film, in sync with the outrages at the moment, even if the mock-dunce Moore made of himself in Sicko, his best film, is now just the old righteous jackass harassing people on Wall Street," writes the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris.

"I, for one," blogs Michael Hogan for Vanity Fair, "left the theater feeling freshly angry about the events of the past year, when what should have been a radically humbling and permanently game-changing crisis for the financial industry somehow morphed into a pretext for the worst culprits to, as Moore puts it, 'back a truck up to the doors of the Treasury.' We are still trying to figure out what really happened with the $700 billion bailout that was jammed through Congress during a period of panic that must have made Tom 'Orange Alert' Ridge feel downright inadequate. And while journalists are doing great work on the subject - see here, here, and here for some home-grown examples - a documentary that spells out just what villainy went down in terms the moviegoing public can understand is sorely needed. Unfortunately, Moore's effort is undercut by his agenda and his tendency to reduce every subject, no matter how complex, to a story about good guys and bad guys."

"The biggest problem with Capitalism," finds Noel Murray at the AV Club, "is that it feels oddly out of touch. In the current political climate, the kind of angry average American that Moore's spent a lifetime championing is more likely to be out in the streets yelling for the heads of liberals like Moore, while the kind of people who look to Moore for trenchant social commentary are likely watching The Daily Show and reading The Daily Dish."

Ben Kenigsberg in Time Out Chicago: "Moore scores major points casting doubt on Timothy Geithner's judgment, then a few minutes later portrays Obama's election as hope for a new era in finance - as if Obama hadn't appointed Geithner as treasury secretary."

"Overlong and scatterbrained, it's like a Saturday morning cartoon marathon version of the financial crisis," writes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE.

Updates, 9/15: "I wouldn't expect a Michael Moore film to even attempt ideological balance, but the point to which Moore deliberately confuses the issues is remarkable," writes Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog.

"Never too reliable a documentarian, if you don't mind me wallowing in understatement, he isn't even a convincing or useful town crier anymore," argues Tom Carson at GQ. "He's a self-smitten pop star whose vogue is fading, that's all, and he's predictably reacted by amping up the stuff that made him famous to begin with. Not only does Capitalism: A Love Story include remember-when clips from 1989's Roger & Me, but they're underlined by Big Mike sententiously explaining that he 'tried to warn GM and others that this was coming' 20 years ago. That's right, folks - the reason the world went to hell is that we didn't listen to Michael Moore. But he still hopes we will before it's too late."

"[W]hen Capitalism: A Love Story is on, it's on fire," writes James Rocchi at Redbox. "But every time Moore steps on the gas, then he goes off-road - or, rather, off-point - and the film gets hung up on one of his silly stunts and derails the momentum of his actual analysis."

Updates, 9/17: From Bruce Headlam's profile for the New York Times: "Hypocrite. Propagandist. Egomaniac. Glutton. Exploiter. Embarrassment. Slob. These are a few of the criticisms that have been lobbed at Mr Moore since his career began, and these are just the ones from liberals. His arrival with Roger & Me seemed to crystallize a contradiction in the elite liberal sensibility, one that is still unresolved. Through President Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, Whitewater and Kenneth W Starr, some liberals have craved their own class warrior, a Rush Limbaugh for the left who would take the fight unapologetically to the Republicans. But faced with Mr Moore (and later, Keith Olbermann) they recoil, claiming that kind of aggressiveness is somehow at odds with the notion of being a liberal. In a famous attack, Pauline Kael wrote that Roger & Me was 'gonzo demagoguery that made me feel cheap for laughing.' Funny - none of Rush's listeners ever say that about him."

Capitalism's "theories of institutional corruption and self-fulfilling propaganda notwithstanding, the film's only real leap of logic or falsehood is that audiences not predisposed to agree will want to see it," writes Todd Gilchrist at Cinematical.

The Los Angeles Times' John Horn reports the film's prospects. With Moore appearing on umpteen talk shows and so on, Capitalism is getting "the kind of build-up usually reserved for Spider-Man sequels," but it "will still need a special, extra something to explode into a true blockbuster."

Online viewing tip. Anne Thompson talks with Moore in Toronto.

Updates, 9/22: Adam Howard in the Nation: "Moore seems to want to convince that there's a light at the end of the tunnel but this time I just don't believe him - even though I want to."

Arianna Huffington: "I asked Michael what impact he hoped the film would have. He chuckled and said that, in some way, he had made the movie for 'an audience of one. President Obama. I hope he sees it and remembers who put him in the White House... and it wasn't Goldman Sachs.'"

Updates, 9/23: "Let's start with his conclusion," proposes David Edelstein: "'Capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil.' That's enough to give anyone pause, especially in light of the sorry history of other political and economic systems.... He has a less controversial case when he examines the flimsy intellectual connections between capitalism and democracy, which Americans tend to see as sibling-close, united under the umbrella of the US Constitution. They're not: One of Moore's stunts is a trip to the Capitol rotunda to examine an original copy, while guards look on, intrigued. Jefferson, Adams, and even Adam Smith (although Moore doesn't invoke him) warned of the dangers to democracy of an unregulated free market in which the wealthy few accumulate too much power. The fact is - the fact is - the pinko Moore follows in far more illustrious footsteps than the free-market Masters of the Universe, most of whom are too a-skeered to submit to his questions.... Moore also follows in the footsteps of Jesus, who, let's remember, took violent issue with material wealth."

"In the end, what is to be done?" asks Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "After watching Capitalism, it beats me. Mr Moore doesn't have any real answers, either, which tends to be true of most socially minded directors in the commercial mainstream and speaks more to the limits of such filmmaking than to anything else. Like most of his movies, Capitalism is a tragedy disguised as a comedy; it's also an entertainment. This isn't the story of capitalism as conceived by Karl Marx or Naomi Klein, and it certainly isn't the story of contemporary American capitalism, which extends across the globe and far beyond Mr Moore's sightlines."

"If Capitalism feels stale, it's partly because Moore isn't trying very hard, but more crucially because, one way or another, now everyone knows about or has felt the sting of the current crisis firsthand," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "If economic collapse has done anything to change Moore's position, it has been to push him further - or, at least, more explicitly - to the left. Contrary to its strategically ambiguous title, whose irony is designed to make hip liberals nod their knowing heads without scaring off the hard right (as if they'd show up for anything with Michael Moore in the credits), Capitalism is the most purely Marxist film Moore has ever made."

"In the current issue of Cineaste, Nomi Prins assesses the recent crop of documentaries devoted to sifting through the origins, as well as the wreckage of, the Great Recession," notes Richard Porton. "Although all of them are admittedly drier than Capitalism, Moore's efforts at explaining our current morass come off as distressingly scattershot."

"This is a love story, all right," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, "but it has less to do with the flaws of capitalism than it does with Moore's unwavering fondness for the sound of his own voice, and for what he perceives as his own vast cleverness."

Ed Champion finds it "unfocused, messy, and even contemptuous of its intended audience."

More from Sam Adams (IFC), David Fear (Time Out New York), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times) and Lauren Wissot (Slant).

Tina Brown talks with Moore at the Daily Beast.


SEE Magazine


Updates, 9/24: In the L Magazine, Nicolas Rapold sees "an almost quaint effort to get across communal values through instructive means: solidarity and the payoff of protests, in the example of a notorious post-layoff factory sit-in; the power of cooperatives; and the cannibalistic tendencies induced by the profit motive. It's a small step beyond Moore's usual problem of leaving his supporters rabid but unequipped."

"Beneath the supposed satire of The Informant and Capitalism lay a smug satisfaction and secret admiration for American corruption," argues Armond White in the New York Press.

Heather Horn rounds up more linkage at the Atlantic Wire.

Online listening tip. Naomi Klein talks with Moore for a Nation cover story.

Updates, 9/25: "Capitalism ultimately feels like too vast a subject for Moore to handle in 135 minutes," writes Alonso Duralde at MSNBC, "and Capitalism: A Love Story, which features the populist outrage and satirical humor that Moore fans have come to expect, doesn't have the call-to-arms impact that Sicko did."

A roundup from Bookforum: "Capitalism after the crisis."

Updates, 9/29: "Moore is so mesmerized by Flint's tragedies that he thinks GM went bankrupt because it closed plants in the 80s," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "Modern capitalism, with its torrential flow of money across borders, is beyond him."

David Edelstein in New York: "In the final sequence, he pretends to try to make citizens' arrests on Wall Street. On one level: groan. On another: No one else seems about to make those arrests."

Paul Matwychuk interviews Moore.

Update, 10/1: Louis Peitzman interviews Moore for Pixel Vision.

Updates, 10/2: Moore has "perfected a technique that puts heart before head every time, combining a scattershot, even sloppy narrative structure with riveting human stories and wry sarcasm," writes Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post, where Moore has taken questions from readers.

"Moore may have grown accustomed to his big-screen proportions, but he should think harder about whether his medium and his audience already have grown out of them," suggests Jonathan Keifer in Faster Times.

Update, 10/3: Chuck Tryon went in "with relatively low expectations, but as I consider what Moore is doing here, I think the film serves not only as a productive contribution to the conversation on What Went Wrong with the economy over the last year but also as a thoughtful consideration on the potential of activist documentary."

Update, 10/10: "Is Michael Moore Right About Capitalism?" Heather Horn gathers political bloggers responses at the Atlantic Wire.

Updates, 10/11: "It's his most wide-ranging broadside and, in many ways, it is a potent, damning, and timely critique," writes Williams Cole. "Moore's talent is largely in delivering a clear and presently undeniable thesis that might finally make your Average Joe see and realize who is actually screwing them."

Also in the Brooklyn Rail, Malcolm Wyer compares the film with The Yes Men Fix the World: "Both are educational films that take stock of the free-market system's impact on our collective, social psychology. Both are full of goofy and somewhat nerdy stunts pulled off by the protagonists/filmmakers. In both cases comedy cushions the impact of an alarming call for change.... However, while viewers of both films are offered a similar entertainment experience, The Yes Men offers its audience an opportunity to engage in (rather than merely accept or decline) its ideas."

In the Observer, Paul Harris considers Moore's "unexpected trump card against conservatives who so vociferously attack him: Christianity."

Update, 10/15: "Basically the achievement of Capitalism is to spell out the facts in such a way that they're impossible to ignore," writes Andrew Schenker. "Nobody does it better than Moore."

TIFF 09: Index; full coverage; lineup.


Among the apologies for and critiques of Moore’s latest, the most consistently damning is Guy Lodge’s report, which includes remarks such as: " the abandonment of craft altogether – visually and rhythmically, it’s probably his dullest film to date, with a second half that devolves frequently into a mere parade of talking heads…" " Moore makes a number of less defensible aesthetic and ideological missteps, occasionally to the detriment of his own argument." “a cheap, grade-level goof that makes his argument look thinner than it is, but it’s a mild annoyance compared to his frustratingly narrow selection of interview subjects.” Then Lodge stuns us my calling Moore “The people’s filmmaker.” If LOdge is correct, then “the people” are currently represented by an extremely priviliged polemicist who, as nearly every observer has noted, not once has resisted the urge to misrepresent the facts at hand (on screen or in person). In which case I would suggest that Moore is working to rescue a people not worth saving.

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