'Sicko' Provokes Gamut of Reactions

July 19, 2007 — Michael Moore is a film maker near impossible to ignore. Is he savior or blatant self-publicist? Sicko, an examination of America's health care system, provokes a broad gamut of reactions.
David Edelstien in New York magazine and Ty Burr in the Boston Globe concur it is his best film. Edelstien hits it about right when he says Moore is a blowhard and a national treasure.
He calls Moore's methods suspect, yet, he says, his work is indispensable.
Burr agrees. 'Sicko' is Moore's best, most focused movie to date – much more persuasive than the enraged and self-righteous 'Fahrenheit 9/11– and not just because the director turns the dial down on his own faux-folksy persona. Moore has a thesis he can get his arms around this time. Resolved: The U.S. health care system is a disaster, built to punish the sick and enrich corporations. Other countries do it better — a lot better. Why is that, and how do we change? It's only on the last point that Moore falters.
Timothy Noah in Slate raises an arresting concern. He makes a case for the fact that big corporations are suffering as well, and may be headed down the road to bankruptcy courtesy of health plans they cannot support.
One significant victim of America's market-based health-care system is left out (of Moore's analysis): market capitalism itself, Noah says. The most obvious victim, ironically, is a company Moore knows very well: General Motors, the automaker that Moore pilloried in his first film, 'Roger and Me.'
Noah says, as of two years ago, health insurance was calculated to add between $1,100 and $1,500 to the price of each automobile manufactured by General Motors — a cost not borne by its foreign competitors. In 2005, GM lost $10.4 billion on its North American operations, and the business press began speculating that the automaker might go bankrupt. Business Week says that if this happened, it would likely be the largest Chapter 11 filing in history.
Noah suggests that Wagoner and Moore would make mighty strange bedfellows, but maybe something could be worked out. “What I'd have liked to see in 'Sicko' is Moore sidling up to Wagoner and offering him a deal. Rick, he'd say, I know there's bad blood between your company and me, but let's let bygones be bygones. You want GM to be in business five years from now. I want the government to guarantee every American decent health care. Join me in demanding national health care in the United States, just like they have in Britain, France and Canada.”
"Sure, Wagoner might refuse," Noah says, but then what would he tell his stockholders?
Moore makes the most of his grandstanding abilities, including taking a boatload of ill 9/11 workers to Guantanamo Bay and yelling over a bullhorn for some medical attention for them. Needless to say, he is turned away.
Burr says the documentary mixes outrage, hope and gonzo stunts in the right proportions, which poses profound questions about the connection between health care and work; and that throws an unforgiving spotlight on what is, in both senses, the elephant in the room.
New Yorker movie critic David Denby disagrees with Burr and Edelstien. He says, Moore has teased and bullied his way to some brilliant highs in his career as a political entertainer, but he scrapes bottom in his new documentary.
The second half of 'Sicko,' says Denby, “is a travelogue; our reporter shambles up to Canada and over to the U.K. and France to see how people bear under national health care — the dreaded 'socialized medicine.'”
"Moore asks a Canadian how much a procedure set him back and receives a look of incredulity. Money? Where’s the billing office in this English hospital? Billing office? For what? How can you French people afford to have kids with all these taxes, Moore asks. 'Oh, the government gives us six months paid maternity leave and a nanny to help with diapers,' is Moore's answer." Denby says. "Moore overdoes the slack-jawed-wonderment thing, but the differences are uncanny."
What Denby really takes issue with is Moore's tactics, which have served him well in the past. Instead of trying to find out what features of universal health care systems in other countries could be adapted to America, Denby says Moore pulls the same silly stunt of pretending to be astonished that health care is free.
He laments that Moore hasn't interviewed major Democratic presidential candidates who have offered, or will soon offer, plans for reform.
In any event, Moore focuses our attention on one of our most critical domestic problems, and he does it in his own inimitable fashion. Like it or not, what Moore has to say is important, even if some disagree with how he says it.
It starts today at Market Square East on St. Thomas. It is rated PG for brief, strong language, and runs for two hours.
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