Reviewing Fahrenheit 9/11, I described Michael Moore as the P.T. Barnum of documentarians. His polemics have all the subtlety of a carnival barker’s shtick, but, you have to admit, there’s little arguing with what’s at the heart of his movies: the portraits of working class individuals who’s circumstances illuminate the festering inequities allowed to thrive in America, inequities that enable the rewarding of the rich and the marginalization of the poor. He’s a master showman, a populist muckraker, to be sure, but his moral outrage against the greed-driven excesses of corporations and the corruption of government is palpable, infectious, and, I think, much-needed in a society that too often feels under the thumb of shareholders, lobbyists, and politicians.

In Sicko, Michael Moore dissects the American health care system and doesn’t come up with very good news. He examines a cross-section of American families and individuals, all of whom are suffering in some way by the bottom-line profiteering and ruthlessness of our major health care companies. Some of his subjects have gone bankrupt, others forced to face serious illness on their own after their carriers abruptly dropped them for getting sick in the first place. Moore investigates the conditions in hospitals where the more “burdensome” (i.e. uninsured, costly, and mentally ill) are regularly thrown out, and left to the mercy of shelters. We also get firsthand accounts of the relatively more compassionate forms of health care that’s the norm in other countries; Moore travels to Canada, the UK, and France to dig up the “dirt” on the socialist modes of care, and finds that their populations live longer and healthier than America’s. Most affecting perhaps is his portrait of several 9/11 rescue workers, all of whom suffer from a range of conditions, from respiratory ailments to PTSD, who’ve all either gotten by mountainous health care bills or gone bankrupt by the same, meeting only apathy from a government that professes to care so much for them.

As is the case with even Moore’s best efforts (and Sicko ranks among his best), the man’s showboating and penchant for staging silly, attention-getting stunts undermines the powerful and poignant message at their roots. In Sicko, the director wields his megaphone and tries to gain his group of 9/11 workers entry into the Guantanamo detention center, a gambit that, no surprise, goes nowhere. But, for the most part, Moore the prankster is muzzled in favor of Moore the social chronicler, and that works to Sicko’s benefit immeasurably. This is a polemic, for sure, but, in uncovering the realities of people — all of them not too different from the rest of us — foundering in a broken system, the movie’s imperative for change, spiked with ironies and salved with sly humor, gets a vital, impassioned dose of urgency.

Grade: A-

Directed by: Michael Moore
Written by: Michael Moore


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