There’s no such thing as an objective documentary. Every documentary, right down to the ones about wild animals roaming the tundra, has been injected with some opinion because every documentary is composed of shots and scenes edited together to create a sort of story. Michael Moore is a master of piecing these elements together to create meaning and a message.
In his newest film, Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore seeks to expose the corruption and greed that lead to the current economic crisis. He talks to families that have lost their homes to foreclosure, profiles businesses that break the mold and offer employees huge benefits, examines historical evidence that explains how things got so bad and hears from politicians who are trying to solve the problem.
As always, Moore does a great job of leading us in a certain direction through visual juxtaposition and humor. The Ancient Rome of old Hollywood movies is spliced in with shots of D.C.’s Roman-inspired architecture. Footage from an old film about Jesus is dubbed to include jokes about pre-existing medial conditions. Sequences with families being tearfully evicted from their homes are combined with a self-professed real estate vulture getting into his new car. Like a good college essay, this evidence supports Moore’s intended thesis statement and leads the viewer towards the overall message.
Unfortunately, Moore’s voiceover narration takes this message and crams it down the viewer’s throat. It’s safe to assume that the majority of the audience for this film will be fans of Moore and people who agree with his politics. That being said, Moore’s narration goes too far with spelling things out as if he doesn’t trust his audience to be able to reach these conclusions on their own. It’s easy enough to see where he’s going without him repeating (and sometimes exaggerating) the message. This unnecessary emphasis can be alienating and can actually take away from the point of the film itself.
In addition to extraneous narration, Moore dilutes a good argument by pulling stunts that seem to be more rooted in stirring up controversy than advancing the message. When he drives up to several large banking corporations in an armored truck holding a big bag with a dollar sign on it to demand that they return their bail-out money, it feels like the kind of “activism” normally reserved for rebellious middle school kids. It does nothing to bring about any change and only supports those who claim Moore is just a wacky, radical troublemaker.
The main problem with Moore’s films is that, at some point or another, he becomes the main character instead of focusing on the issue itself. Whether it’s his superfluous narration or obnoxious stunts, the points he attempts to make seem to be far too intertwined with his own fame (or infamy) and start to get lost in the shuffle.