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Capitalism: A Love Story: Yesterday's headlines 

It goes without saying that Michael Moore's latest documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story, hardly shows the United States of America at its best. The sobering afterthought is that it hardly shows Michael Moore at his best, either. Easily the controversial filmmaker's weakest nonfiction piece to date, Capitalism contains many powerful sequences yet ultimately is too scattershot to serve as effective agitprop.

Tackling the subject of capitalism is even more daunting than tackling the subject of health care (as he did so expertly in Sicko), and Moore is unable to coalesce all the different chapters of his odyssey into a cohesive whole. Using home-movie footage from his own comfortable middle-class existence as a child, he shows how the basic tenets of this economic system allowed everyone in the postwar decades to take part in the American Dream, with the country only truly going to hell once Ronald Reagan and his puppetmasters arrived on the scene. From here, Moore jumps all over the place: watching ordinary folks being thrown out of their lifelong homes by the evil banking industry; chatting with erudite actor-playwright Wallace Shawn about economics; detailing how various people (including a judge) were getting rich by throwing typical teens into a juvenile detention center for offenses as minor as hurling a piece of meat across the dinner table; noting how many banking-industry officials have been a key part of the past few administrations; and examining the clandestine bank bailouts.

This is all well and good, but we already knew most of these stories from even just cursory glances at newspapers and news blogs, and more than ever, we get the sense that Moore is preaching to the choir with no real inclination to expand his audience (admittedly, he's such a polarizing figure that it's hard to imagine anyone not already having an opinion of him). This isn't to say that Capitalism: A Love Story doesn't succeed in some areas. Moore reminds us that Franklin Roosevelt was one of our great presidents (via invaluable newsreel footage showing FDR proposing a second Bill of Rights that would have guaranteed Americans, among other benefits, universal health care) while Reagan and George W. Bush were among our worst. Yet even here, the filmmaker gets carried away, treating Barack Obama's election (as presented by Moore, the only thing missing is a heavenly choir) as the turning point back toward a respectable and compassionate society. (Uh, wake me when this actually happens.)

Moore's on-camera antics are still moderately amusing but increasingly reveal that he needs new material rather than repeating the same old shtick of, say, walking up to the office building of an important person and trying to gain access that he knows ahead of time won't be granted. As always, he's at his best when he gets the hell out of the way and lets average citizens have their say. These are the moments that alternately provide the most inspiration, such as tracking a profitable company run solely by its own employees, and the most outrage, as in a heartbreaking discussion of how numerous despicable corporations (among them Wal-Mart, Bank of America and AT&T) take out what they call "Dead Peasant" insurance policies, collecting giant sums when one of their employees dies (they prefer the deceased young and female, since that yields the greatest financial rewards).

By the end of the picture, Moore takes to the streets, brandishing the verbal equivalent of a shotgun and calling for the end of capitalism. Yet even his own footage at the beginning of the film suggests that the problem isn't capitalism itself but rather capitalism as it's abused by those in charge. Moore means well, but in this case, he seems to have used that metaphorical shotgun to shoot himself in the foot.

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