Sunday 11 April 2010

Credibility crunch (ST 28/02/10)

Capitalism: a Love Story (12A) 126 mins ***
Extraordinary Measures (PG) 105 mins **
The Crazies (15) 101 mins ***

There’s a crucial moment early in 1989’s Roger & Me, Michael Moore’s grimly funny essay on the economic devastation General Motors wrought on his hometown of Flint, Michigan. It’s here we learn the filmmaker was fired from a Chicago newspaper for arguing with management; evidently, the fourth estate could contain neither Moore’s concerns nor his ego. Henceforth, Moore’s work would abandon objectivity to pursue its own agenda; even its narration would sound as though recorded too close to the microphone. The baseball-capped crusader wanted our ear, and he was willing to try anything to get it.

In his latest, Capitalism: a Love Story, Moore revisits Flint, and where once industry flourished, there is now not a single green shoot in sight. Evidence suggests it’s the same story all across America. Moore’s explanation - feel free to quibble - goes something like this. The post-War growth, achieved while America’s shellshocked rivals rebuilt, accelerated thanks to huckster-statesmen like Reagan, who gleefully dismantled the system of checks and balances to turn a quicker buck. The shock isn’t that the economy went into meltdown; it’s that the infrastructure didn’t collapse sooner.

Moore-sceptics, brace yourselves. The director gets this historical overview not from an economist, but the cuddly actor Wallace Shawn; he declares capitalism “evil”, oblivious to the fact those queuing for his movie at the multiplex are surely an example of how the free market can, occasionally, operate for enlightenment. Like his conservative opponents, Moore is prone to easy nostalgia, here granting Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights, never enacted into law, a full reading. Still, while it’s tempting to dismiss Moore as a crank, he remains an entertaining crank; if he’s merely a propagandist, he’s becoming increasingly skilled with it.

He recuts Presidential addresses, redubs Robert Powell’s Jesus, illustrates ideas of social mobility with YouTube footage of a dog trying to grab scraps from a table. He relishes the irony of a struggling signmaker whose business was saved by a sudden rush of orders for foreclosure placards. Capitalism is anchored by Moore’s ability to hone in on the most emotive material available to him: planes brought down by debt-burdened pilots, corporations taking out so-called “Dead Peasants” life insurance to profit from their employees’ deaths.

The director has appeared increasingly keen to reclaim some middle ground: even his most divisive work, 2004’s Fahrenheit 9/11, deployed bereaved Republican Lila Lipscomb to bolster its case against the then-incumbent Dubya. One atypically pious segment in Capitalism seems to be reaching out to Bible Belt viewers, by demonstrating how the laws of the market are directly opposed to the word of God. Moore’s prepared to criticise Democrats for backing the rushed-through Republican bailout package, denouncing Obama and Goldman Sachs in the same breath.

What Capitalism lacks, amid this new-found moderation, is any real coup de cinéma. The film is weary around the edges. “I can’t keep doing this any more,” Moore opines in his summation, sounding rather like a Wat Tyler who’s realised the mob behind him is too busy Twittering to confront the issues he’s been raising these past two decades. Perhaps inadvertently, the film poses a question that speaks less of fatcat greed than it does our own failings as consumers. It’s not - as Moore barks at one senator - “where has our money gone?” It is, instead, this: why haven’t we done more to reclaim it?

We follow the money into Extraordinary Measures, an old-fashioned disease-of-the-week procedural based on Geeta Anand’s The Cure; less than extraordinary viewing, all told, but I gave it points for trying. This is the true story of how two men eating tacos in a bar came to save hundreds of children’s lives. One is John Crowley (Brendan Fraser), a marketing exec whose offspring were born with Pompe disease, a terminal form of muscular dystrophy; the other is Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), an under-appreciated research scientist at the University of Nebraska.

The opening CBS Films logo proves the giveaway: this is a TV movie, shot by Starter for Ten’s Tom Vaughan in a determined soft focus, but it’s sincere and decently performed, weighing Fraser’s doughiness against Ford’s flinty grouch. That Stonehill is obliged to become a team player is an indication of the film’s dramatic limitations, and Vaughan struggles to make enzymes compelling. Yet the script is shrewd on the intersection of science and private finance: if its miracle cure comes to seem like a given, the hard slog of finding the funding for these breakthroughs is made honourably clear.

One could harrumph on hearing Breck Eisner, son of Hollywood magnate Michael, has remade George Romero’s countercultural shocker The Crazies. Gone are Romero’s sociopolitical gracenotes: as sheriff Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell’s GP outrun the murderous madness trickling through their small farming community, Eisner’s potshots at military ineptitude are at best perfunctory, and all too clearly aimed at winning the hearts and minds of an anti-authoritarian teenage demographic. Yet the relentless forward momentum occasions some clever-grisly moments. I liked the mortician-gone-wild set-piece requiring Olyphant to desuture a dying priest’s mouth for crucial narrative information. He hears but two words: “Behind… you…”

No comments:

Post a Comment