The notorious and intemperate essayist Michael Moore does not want to hide the theme of his latest cinematic firebomb, Capitalism: A Love Story. He indeed presents this theme in unambiguous, straightforward language, though one must wait for most of the movie to hear his words: "Capitalism is evil, and you can't regulate evil. You have to eliminate it." For a great many people, that's just not the sort of thing that you can think about in cool, objective terms. I wonder if maybe the majority of us, precariously situated in one of the most dire economic minefields within living memory, might at least find that message resonant enough to stop and ponder what Moore is talking about, even if we do not agree with him. At the same time, I cannot imagine what possible value the film could hold for a viewer who wakes up every morning to the though, "Gee, it sure is great to be alive in the United States in this time of economic possibility. To the viewer who belongs to this second camp, please e-mail me at, because I'd like to discuss the possibility of buying an ounce or two of the clearly very nice bud that you've stumbled into.

You can't really talk about this kind of movie without making your biases clear upfront, and though long-time readers know this already, here goes: I happen to agree that capitalism is evil, and that you can't regulate evil, and I probably believe that even more than Moore does, being as I am quite comfortable saying things like "I am a democratic socialist", while Moore only once says that capitalism could be replaced by some other -ism, a punt that's almost as irritating as when people in movies and on television pretend that abortion doesn't exist.

Now, here comes the big old qualifier that applies in some measure or not to just about every one of Michael Moore's films, to some degree or another: though I agree with Moore's arguments and the reason he is making them, I do not necessarily appreciate the way he makes those arguments. Certainly, he is not a terribly subtle thinker, and his favored form of argumentation gets one swell work-out in Capitalism: make a statement, and then show a barely-related anecdote about some family in middle America that got screwed over horribly from something that could, in theory, have sprung out of the statement that Moore first made. In other words: yes, I think that capitalism is a bad, broken system, but I do not think that showing a family in Peoria, Illinois getting evicted from their decades-old farmhouse is actually making that argument.

Now, that said, I don't think that this problem is as big in Capitalism as in most of his movies; in fact, I'd say almost without hesitation that Capitalism is his best work since his 1989 debut Roger & Me, a film to which Capitalism functions as a kind of spiritual sequel. Both films are about the ways that unchecked corporatism can leave a community or a country in ruins; Capitalism adds to that by presenting itself, implicitly, as Moore's apology that Roger & Me wasn't good enough to make things better.

As many people have criticised over the years, one of the biggest problems with a Michael Moore movies is that they tend to be about Michael Moore as much as they are about guns or George W. Bush, or whatever. I think that with Capitalism, Moore has finally internalised that criticism and turned it into something useful. Yes, this is a film about Michael Moore - his ideas, his family, his bête noire of Flint, Michigan. However, it is not, like many of the film's harshest critics would have you think, more of the same dirty tricks Michael Moore out for a laugh and some gonzo entertainment. The celebrated "citizen's arrest of the big banks" that played so heavily in the trailer? Well, if you've seen the trailer, you've seen pretty much all of that footage that ends up in the movie, at the end; and you haven't seen Moore's admission that when all is said and done, those tricks are stupid and they don't work. He can't actually change the world through his movies, the best he can do is to convince enough people to help him change the world. This is practically verbatim from the last scene in the movie (I don't think Moore would be upset that I gave away the end, as long as I don't give away everything in the middle), and the bald misrepresentations in unfriendly reviews aside, this is clearly a vision of Moore in a reflective, conciliatory mood. Being Michael Moore was fun, but it didn't do him any good, and in his eyes, and mine, we're in a deep enough crisis that "not doing any good" isn't good enough. Things have to change now, and his tricks can't change them: his words might, if he gets to enough people and convinces them.

So, back to that argument, anyway: capitalism is evil, and you can't regulate evil. It would be nice to say that Moore uses clever logic and unassailable facts to convince the viewer that he's right, but I think it's evident that he just plain doesn't think that we have the time for nice logic. This movie is a plea, a desperate, heart-felt attempt to document as many suffering people and as many horrible corporate practices as he possibly can in two hours - and make no mistake, a politically committed person who is already strongly in favor of capitalism will not be moved. Moore has made a movie for those who agree with him, and those who never really thought about it. But "those who never really thought about it" make up quite a large percentage of the electorate, and if those people can be persuaded by Moore's presentation of just a small number of the many horrible things that have been done in the free market, then maybe that's enough. He doesn't give a map of the future; that's not the aim. The aim is to get enough people to agree that things are wrong right now that a map of the future becomes a possibility. I can't say if he succeeds or not - I agree with him already, after all - but I think that even if it's not the most cogent political docu-essay ever made, it's surely coming straight from the heart.