“What the fuck happened?”asks writer-director-producer Michael Moore, as he attempts to make sense of America’s bank crisis. But when a broker attempts to explain the derivatives market to Moore, the filmmaker edits the scene with uncomprehending reaction shots. Moore goes into dumb everyman mode. He is more effective when editing clips from surveillance video of bank robbers, a Biblical film where he hijacks Jesus to utter “Go forth and maximize profits,” William Deneen’s vintage educational short “Life in Ancient Rome,” and a clip from “The Killers” where Ronald Reagan slaps a dame played by Angie Dickinson that’s used to illustrate the Reagan-era rebuke of feminists. Moore’s best find: “dead peasant” insurance policies. Stunts include wrapping crime-scene tape around Wall Street and making attempts at making citizen’s arrests. There’s a local angle: inside footage from the Republic Windows and Doors strike that did not appear on local news. Twenty years ago Michael Moore attempted to make sense of the disaster in his hometown of Flint, Michigan in “Roger & Me” (1989). That was a manageable topic, as was American healthcare in his “Sicko” (2007). Maybe American capitalism is too much, although James Scurlock’s “Maxed Out” (2007) and Patrick Creadon’s “I.O.U.S.A.” (2008) did manage to explicate America’s credit and debt crises. “Capitalism: A Love Story” does master rhetoric. Moore concludes with a decree: “Capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil. You have to eliminate it and replace it with something that is good for all people and that something is called democracy.” His pause before unloading that last word is perfect, despite a semantic chasm between “capitalism” and “democracy” as antipodal lodestars for charting America’s future. 127m. (Bill Stamets)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.