'Capitalism: A Love Story': Money Jungle, By Kurt Loder

Michael Moore awaits the end of the world as we know it.

In his new movie, [movie id="391469"]"Capitalism: A Love Story,"[/movie] Michael Moore casts a fiery eye at the U.S. financial system — a rich and appalling subject at the moment — and comes, alas, to the usual loopy conclusion: Hateful capitalism is dead; time now for government to step in and take charge. This mad idea has worked out so badly so many times in the past (has it not been just 20 years since Soviet communism collapsed?) that one is always startled to see it exhumed as a cutting-edge nostrum. So I'm not a Mike fan.

And yet — and yet! — there's a section of this picture, wonderfully well-edited and powered by raw fury, that made me want to leap up and cheer. Or leap up and throw stuff, actually. It's the section in which Moore focuses on the current economic collapse — the heedless Wall Street financial machinations, the unconscionable corporate bailouts, the rampant political scumbaggery. Naturally, George W. Bush, the man who unleashed the flood of taxpayer money into the hands of incompetent finance weasels, takes some well-deserved lumps here (to the predictable accompaniment of out-of-context file footage showing him doing silly things). But then, to his credit, Moore trains his guns on the other side of the political aisle and starts whaling on some equally deserving Democrats: the Fannie Mae-shielding Barney Frank; the Countrywide-cuddling Christopher Dodd; and the egregious Timothy Geithner, brazen tax-dodger and now — somehow! — secretary of the Treasury.

Moore also clearly illustrates the revolving door between the executive suites of high finance and the halls of government. (The name of Goldman Sachs, the big investment banking firm, crops up a lot here. And while in another part of the picture the director lapses into predictable Obama adoration, here he pointedly notes that Goldman Sachs was the biggest contributor to Barack Obama's presidential campaign.)

This is rousing stuff. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the legal and financial system called capitalism. What it does have to do with is corruption. And no matter how loudly businessmen and politicians may proclaim their reverence for free-market precepts, once corrupted, they're no longer capitalists.

The rest of the picture suffers from Moore's usual mixture of populist demagoguery and string-pulling sentimentalism. We're shown several families who are being evicted from their homes — by the same banks that are simultaneously Hoovering money out of the federal treasury. Some of these scenes are heartbreaking. But they'd be more compelling if Moore let us know why these people are being kicked out into the street. Presumably, they couldn't make their mortgage payments. Did they yield to the lure of government-mandated easy credit and refinance their mortgages in order to refinance their lifestyles — and then get caught short? Or were they genuinely snookered? (Moore is convinced that one of these families, the Hackers, was robbed, and he says he's hired a lawyer to get to the bottom of their case.)

Then there's the deplorable story from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in which a private company, PA Child Care LLC, was hired to run a pair of juvenile-detention facilities and kept them filled by paying more than $2 million to two local judges, who obligingly remanded hundreds of kids — many found guilty, without benefit of lawyers, of the most piddling offenses — into extended custody. But again, this has nothing to do with capitalism. The judges and the company were flagrantly corrupt; both judges have been removed from the bench and are now facing a sizable if not sufficient number of years in jail.

There's lots more, some of it riveting, some of it bordering on vaudeville. Moore once again labors to hold the movie's sprawling elements together with his familiar lovable-schlub persona — part homespun Marxist, part wisecracking provincial — and the look of sly mock bafflement on his face as first a Wall Street executive and then a Harvard professor try (and fail) to explain the financial mystery of derivatives is one of the more entertaining things in the film.

Moore has taken a lot of stick in the media following the New York premiere of his movie last week, and no wonder — one needed hip boots to wade through all the hypocrisy on display. It was held, first of all, at Lincoln Center, the gleaming uptown high-culture temple, every square foot of which appears to have its own corporate sponsor. (There's even a "Bank of New York Box Office.") Inside the theater where the picture was to be shown, stylishly attired people milled around the "Morgan Stanley Lobby" sipping champagne and murmuring about the length of the lines in which they were being obliged to stand for their free VIP tickets. The premiere was sponsored by Esquire, one of the many bibles of yearning upward mobility, and the magazine also threw the afterparty, which was held in an ultra-luxe Soho penthouse stocked with free drinks, tasty high-end tidbits, and apparently even a hot tub equipped with cute rent-a-babes. (I'm afraid I missed the afterparty. Well, skipped it.)

Moore dismisses critical carping about this sort of thing by claiming it's just an unavoidable shoal in the sea of irony he's forced to navigate for professional purposes. I don't know who he thinks he's kidding. Actually, I think he's kidding himself. Consider: Hardworking filmmaker delivers new movie to powerful studio for distribution; deals are struck, promotion is planned. No one is coerced, no one is cheated — it's a textbook demonstration of voluntary economic behavior. Can Moore really not recognize what's going on here? Can he somehow not see? It's capitalism. The real thing.

Be sure to check out Kurt Loder's reviews of "Zombieland," "Whip It" and "The Invention Of Lying," also new in theaters this week.

Check out everything we've got on "Capitalism: A Love Story."

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