When Michael Moore makes a movie these days, all hell seems to break loose. It gets to a point where whatever message he's trying to communicate is drowned out by all the media attention, knee-jerk reactionaries, and general resentment. With "Sicko," Moore is embarking on a topic that is vital to the might of America, seeded with a message that everyone in the country should be, at the very least, aware of. This is health care, and it is killing our nation.
Of course, I've been a great admirer of Moore's for some time, always willing to embrace his big screen pole vaults of satire and acidic truth. "Sicko" comes after the unreal success of "Fahrenheit 9/11," a picture that gave Moore the most power he's ever enjoyed and sent his loudest critics into a spastic, wildly entertaining Curly-shuffle of frustration. It comes as little surprise that Moore, now with the world's attention, has selected the hornet's nest issue of health care for his latest picture.
"Sicko" is a persuasive piece of "informational entertainment," (perhaps "documentary" no longer covers what Moore is trying to accomplish here), picking up a rock and throwing at the fanged, mile-high, tentacled beast called privatized health care. It's a spectacular look at America and the corruption that rots our very core, swallowing the interests of our leaders and mercilessly disposing of our most needy. Did I mention the film is a comedy?
Narrated by and appearing in the second half of the film is Moore, who is astounded that his country is unwilling to fix what clearly is a broken system. "Sicko" isn't a comprehensive argument for repair, but it isn't meant to be. Moore gives the viewer enough examples of failure and deception to cook up a frothy stew of amazement and poignancy, spending time with the individuals instead of a flow chart of indifference. Not every corner of health care is exposed; Moore leaves that minutiae to the political pundits, as they chase their tails to a point of exhaustion and social irresponsibility. Instead, Moore paints a dramatic picture of the way things are headed, and his point of view is shocking.
At times bitingly hilarious and other times profoundly horrific, "Sicko" provocatively examines how America built its current system of coverage, tracing the line back to Nixon, who supported Henry Kaiser and his efforts to extract top dollar for lowball health care. The fruit of that greed is found today, with over 47 million Americans living without health insurance and the rest barely able to stay ahead of their co-pays, rate hikes, and flimsy denials the insurance providers abuse to shake off the undesired.
Moore steps out to meet those who were refused benefits for a variety of unethical reasons; middle-class folk from the U.S. who became tangled in the system with no chance for survival. One gentleman without coverage had to "Sophie's Choice" which finger he could afford to reattach after a carpentry accident. Another elderly couple is so lost in debt from their medical co-pay bills they have to move in with their kids for help. Several other stories zero in on the increasingly ludicrous and fraudulent ways the insurance giants dodge their obligation of payment. These tales are purposefully venomous, casting the industry in a viciously unflattering light where every person insured is just dollar sign for the money mulch, and not a human being.
Without question, the cancer at the heart of the predicament is greed. In America, health care is almost an exclusive club, and membership is becoming increasingly difficult to acquire. As with any business, the bottom line is profit; however with health care, shouldn't compassion and a hint of fairness come into play? Money says no, the government says no, and this sends Moore to other countries to find out where fair play factors into the business of restoring health to humans.
The second half of "Sicko" jets Moore to Canada, France, and Britain to take a peek at how their health systems operate and to meet American expatriates who bolted from their home country for greener medicinal pastures. The result is traditional bouncy Moore-ish revelations of a utopian, socialized industry that considers the patient before the pay. Now, the intricacies of the foreign systems are not addressed (see Denys Arcand's "The Barbarian Invasions" for a more sobering look at Canada's health system), but Moore has never been one to stop a film for the smaller details. He's going after the larger juxtapositions of countries that are willing to help their citizens versus the American system, which, in the feature, resembles a relentless jackal scrambling for every ounce of meat it can sink its teeth into before being caught.
Moore being Moore, there is brief footage of President Bush boobing it up in public about the American work ethic and health concerns, yet "Sicko" is not a political picture. Outside of roasting Hilary Clinton on her repulsively two-faced history with the health care industry (the film is a lite version of "Fahrenheit 9/11" for Clinton) and a general understanding that most politicians are corrupt and couldn't care less about their country, "Sicko" hugs tightly to the human element, openly hypothesizing that change will only arrive on these shores when average Americans stop fearing their government as taught and take the future of the nation into their own hands.
For his master stroke, Moore takes a group of 9/11 rescue workers currently in the throes of debilitating health situations to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where it was revealed that suspected terrorists in detention at the American military base were offered the finest health care imaginable, while our "heroes" were left to rot in a system that denied them coverage due to miles of red tape and sickening indifference. The sequence is a beaut, working both as an ironic comedic premise Moore is truly gifted at spinning and as an eye-opening look at Cuba's health system; a working model of ramshackle productivity in a country we've all been taught to hate, without the slightest understanding how it actually conducts business.
I can't imagine "Sicko" will be as polarizing as previous Moore efforts, but there are those who make a living hating the man (if only the anti-Vin Diesel lobby paid!). I choose to view Moore as rotund, filthy rich superhero, trying his best to defend the population and inform the greater good. Even if his intentions are blown off course or his ego unrivaled, his goals are always admirable, and his motion pictures are consistently hysterical, devastating, dynamic pieces of entertainment.
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