Thursday, July 12, 2007


The verdict: Moving, didactic, and not as politically divisive as Moore's previus offerings, 'Sicko' is his best work to date.

The rating: 7/10

Michael Moore seems to have an ability to polarise American audiences in a manner few other film-makers can replicate. With his two previous documentaries, Moore called into question certain cultural mores that are almost unuquely American. In 'Bowling for Columbine', the issue of gun control was raised as a possible means of preventing further shootings in American high schools. Moore famously received a rifle as a free gift for opening a bank account in one of the Southern american states... However, gun ownership, and the right to bear arms, is an issue close to the heart of millions of Americans, and Moore did not win many of them over with this movie.

With 'Fahrenheit 9/11', Moore's biggest success to date, the American 'war on terror' was called into question. George W. Bush's actions after September 11th were forensically analysed, and Moore's conclusions were of shady goings-on in Capitol Hill, linking the Bush and Bin Laden families in a real and tangible way. He also famously went to Washington to ask senators in person if they would enlist their sons and daughters in the U.S. army... This type of attack on the president was deemed 'anti-american' by many, and Moore won more enemies with this movie.

With Sicko however, I think Moore may have finally found a subject that does not create two camps of opinion. This time, the operation of the american healthcare system is under fire, and it comes out looking pretty bleak.

Essentially, the American health insurance system is controlled by big companies. They regulate the flow and price of drugs, and actually own hospitals. When you get sick in the U.S., you must contact your insurance company to see if they will pay your claim. However, as Moore points out, the Insurance companies are profit-driven, and the less they pay out in claims, the better return their shareholders receive. An unfortunate by-product of this capitalist dystopia is that sick people requiring medical attention are not receiving it, and dropping dead as a result. Which is a bit of a bitch when you've paid all your premiums each month up until getting sick...

Moore examines the cases of a number of New York firefighters who are still suffering breathing difficulties five years after searching for bodies on 'the pile', where the air was loaded with toxins such as, among others, high quantities of asbestos. Politicians at the time were happy to credit firefighters as the first line of defence against the terrorists, and made $50 million dollars available in funds to cover any potential health problems they may suffer as a result of their efforts. However, the invconvenient truth, as artcuated by New York governr Michael Pataki, is that it is pretty tough for genuine claimants to get access to the funds, as Moore shows in this movie.

As well as the 9/11 workers, Moore shows us case after case of Americans who were refused legitimate claims because of bureaucratic reasons. He contrasts the American system with the NHS in the UK, the French social security system, and of course the Canadians. One failing of Moore's comparisons is that he paints a very rosy picture of the green grass on the other side of the fence, but I suppose relative to the American system, things are far better in all the countries mentioned.

Sicko also has a political message to deliver, and this is articulated by the eminent English former labor MP Tony Benn. There is a point made about the relationship between a people and its government. When the people are healthy and well educated, the power rests with them, because the government is in fear of what the people will do. In the U.S. at the moment, the opposite situation is the norm. University education and healthcare are cripplingly expensive, so people can't afford third level education, and when they get sick, they go bankrupt. Benn makes a point about fear being an excellent means of control, so when people are afraid of their lives, they just keep their heads down and hope for the best, that maybe things will change.

With Sicko, Moore is doing his best to educate about an issue that should not divide his viewers between two opposiing political iodeologies in the same manner as his previous two movies. In the typical Moore style, it is quite heavy-handed, but there are many moving scenes in here, and I reckon it's more balanced, and more watchable than 'Fahrenheit 9/11'.

I guess the question needs to be asked, is it worth seeing in the cinema? Well, I think so. Just because there aren't CGI robots trashing it out on screen doesn't make it a Dvd-only experience! In any case, a movie with a message this strong, delivered so eloquently, deserves to be viewed, so I'll recommend it pretty highly.

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