Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Movie Review: SiCKO.

While I can't find myself agreeing with Michael Moore's politics, I appreciate his work. I've seen all of his movies (include the obscure The Big One and Canadian Bacon), and read all of his books. If you haven't seen Roger & Me or Bowling for Columbine, you need to do so posthaste. Stop reading this blog to take care of this egregious oversight. (Okay, finish the entry and then check them out.)

I'm a fan because he demonstrates uncommon skill in conveying his message. His movies simultaneously provoke and entertain. He weds biting social commentary with comedy. Moore brings together liberalism and lampoons. Laughs and tears are justly juxtaposed. Not easy to do.

With this backdrop, I approached SiCKO with anticipation. Perhaps too much. The movie didn't seem to deliver the same Moorean prescriptions of satire and silliness.

Instead, SiCKO is a sober, searing indictment of the US health care industry. Moore indicts through case studies of people you won't recognize. While building sympathy for "ordinary folks", you sense Moore cherry-picked the cases, and attempts to draw grand conclusions based on anecdotal evidence.

On the other side of the ledger, there were only about 4 or 5 chuckles or chortles. These moments of light were almost dropped in as asides. They didn't advance Moore's message as well as he has been able to do in the past. His biggest joke took some time to build to a crescendo. It's late in the movie and didn't really reward the audience's patience.

While some have said SiCKO is Moore's least controversial or political film, I noted Moore could not resist indulging his disdain for the current occupant of the Oval Office, who appeared (unwittingly) in the movie about 4 or 5 times in unflattering contexts. Iraq policy even garnered a sneering mention.

Additionally, I noticed a heavy-handed, obtrusive use of the soundtrack to "program" the audience to adopt a certain emotion. It was the musical equivalent of a laugh track, but usually in reverse--"folks get serious now because the serious stuff is at hand" was the virtual lyric.

Nevertheless, you can't walk away from this movie without concluding that the system is broken. The patient is indeed sick. Getting the diagnosis is the easy part, the prescription isn't. On this score, Moore travels to four countries and uncritically offers their plans as solutions. Moore offers Canada, France, Great Britain and Cuba as models. His glowing praise of their imperfect systems glosses over the tradeoffs.

For example, Moore got very close to addressing a legitimate objection about France's health care when he asks the question about whether the French are awash in taxes and then didn't answer it. I'm not sure who said it, but the line, "You think health care is expensive now, wait until it's free" ran through my mind during the film and Moore ignored this obvious issue throughout his polemic.

Recognizing what this movie is and what it isn't will help make it a more palatable experience. At bottom, it's an agitating, thought-provoking film that constitutes its own niche among the other films in the multiplexes. This innovation and creativity should not be shrugged off simply because one disagrees with the filmmaker's politics or message.

SiCKO receives a B plus plus (B++).