Like many people on what is semi-accurately referred to as The Left, I have a deeply torn relationship with the films of Michael Moore. He's a fiery rhetorician and no mistake; but he preaches to the choir, don't you think? He has a knack for taking outrages that only wonks know about and making them easy for the layman to understand; but surely he could do that without so much fudging! He's an arrogant, fat bully; but he's our arrogant, fat bully, and he's our only one, compared to the dozens on The Right; but isn't one of the reasons we hate The Right is because all of their spokespersons are arrogant, fat bullies; but then again, isn't that why The Right always wins?

He's not even necessarily all that good of a fat, arrogant bully. Face facts, have any of his films actually succeeded in changing the world? Roger & Me and The Big One didn't help the working man or put a brake on corporate America. Bowling for Columbine didn't make our country even a little bit less violent. And the elephant in the room, Fahrenheit 9/11 didn't end the war in Iraq, and it sure as hell didn't prevent Bush's re-election (indeed, I am tempted to agree that history has proven Jean-Luc Godard's prediction correct: it specifically helped Bush).

I think that maybe the last film on that list taught Moore a little bit of humility, because his new film, Sicko, fixes some of the problems that have long plagued his work; of course some problems remain, and that's probably just as well, because if Michael Moore fixed all of his problems, then he would no longer be Michael Moore, and he still makes the finest cinematic op-eds in the business (they're not really "documentaries," as the director has been perfectly willing to admit).

As you're probably well aware by now, Sicko is an examination of the US healthcare system, with an eye towards the argument that we'd mostly be better off if this country adapted a national system along the lines of the Candian or British or French model. Not "we'd all be better"; because some very specific Americans are very happy indeed that such a thing as privatized health insurance exists. The film is divided into rough thirds: horror stories about the immense suffering that can occur to properly-insured people in this country (right at the start, Moore informs us that this will not be a film about the tens of millions of completely un-insured, whose story is a different beast entirely); an examination of who stands to benefit from keeping the status quo, and how things got to be that way; and a whirlwind tour of some of the health-care industries so often demonized in this country a socialist.

It's this last part that has come under the most scrutiny, which is pretty much fair given that it's the most show-offy. For one thing, it's really only in the sequences about and shot in other countries that we get to see Moore himself, and therefore only in those sequences that we get the gonzo Mooreisms that so often characterize his films.

Tactically, this is really a smart structure (and of course I'm personally only interested in the tactics, but I'll get back to that). Michael Moore is a polarizing figure - that's my critical bombshell for the day, y'all - and it's probably the single most common attack on any of his films, even over the issues of accuracy, that he puts himself so front-and-center. Speaking for myself, I have usually enjoyed that, as I think that it speaks to a pride in his beliefs that is tragically hard to find amongst liberals; but for a whole lot of people, he's just nasty ol' Fatty Moore.

Acknowledging that, here's what he does: he spends a whole lot of time laying out his foundation, showing that the American healthcare system is broken and it eats innocent people alive, that it is greased by one of the largest communities of lobbyists in Washington (the film claims in fact that no industry has more lobbyists than health insurance, which seems likely), and that the Powers That Be have done a fantastic job of framing the issue in ways that make the middle and lower classes extremely happy about the way things are (if the movie does nothing else, I think that it will serve an invaluable service by indroducing average Americans to the idea that there is a "Right Wing Noise Machine" that does this thing called "framing issues"). It is only after he's finished with a pretty air-tight case that things are pretty objectively bad, and surely we can all agree on that, that he finally appears in the flesh, 45 minutes in. So, unless you only came in to be outraged at how much you fucking hate fucking Michael Moore, by the time he appears in his gonzo glory with his really bleeding edge liberal ideas about nationalized medicine (ideas that are firmly center-right in every other Western country, FWIW), you've probably gotten pretty well hooked.

Now, I'm part of that choir that he's preaching to, so I can't claim that it works as well as all that. Just that it looks like it should.

Of course, being Michael Moore, there are some rocky patches of dubious reasoning and massaged facts. The first 45 minutes are unimpeachable, the best and funniest and most heartbreaking stuff he's ever done. And all of the foreign country scenes work; but I am not completely certain they work all together. The editorial voice that Moore adopts is a wilfully naïve "gee whilikers, this 'socialized healthcare' ain't half bad!" tone that is cute at first, but becomes increasingly draggy as he trots it out for the fourth time in the third country. And frankly, the biggest lesson that Moore needs to learn is that there are grey areas in this world: there are, I have no doubt, horror stories in the French, Canadian and British medical industries, but not in Sicko. Not to mention the way that he almost palpably sidesteps the issue of higher taxes to pay for all of this lovely "free" care (a documentary arguing for universal health coverage and progressive tax reform would be maybe a little too radical, I suppose. More's the pity).

The really tricky part, however, is the Big Moore Stunt at the end, where he takes three uninsured 9/11 volunteer workers to Cuba to get some work done that they've been fighting for these last five years. In that same dazzled-schoolboy voice, Moore is shocked - shocked! - that the Evil Commie Cubans would open their hearts to these Americans, and treat them for absolutely no charge. Well, I'm pretty sure that I'm more of a Marxist than Michael Moore has ever admitted to being, and even I have to wonder if the presence of those lovely American movie cameras had something to do with the Cubans' enthusiasm.

On the other hand: after five years of useless fighting in these United States, those 9/11 volunteers were set right. Presumably. Moore does not tell us how they fared in the months after, probably because all this happened not that many months ago.

And that's pretty much the movie, right there, for me: sure, it makes some mistakes, but it got the job done. It's gotten Middle America talking about socialized healthcare. That's pretty amazing. And to be completely honest, I think that might be what Moore was after. Like I said, post-Fahrenheit 9/11, he's palpably less cocky than ever, and for this one film, at least, I genuinely believe that he just wanted to get the ideas out there. Well, now they're out there. Here's hoping that this time, Moore finally gets his chance to change the world.