Canadian filmmaker Debbie Melnyk acknowledges the awful truth with evident disgust when she calls Michael Moore a cultural icon of the left wing in her documentary, Manufacturing Dissent. Critics and political pundits argue that Michael Moore is an ideological con artist, a Machiavellian personification of the left wings stronghold on popular culture and a belligerent egoist. In Moores new documentary, he implicitly recognises this perception and relays his patented brand of awareness that regards bipartisan ineptitude and clout consolidation as a key factor (and indirectly endorsing Senator Obama for Democratic Nominee) that has lead to a corporate monopoly on healthcare in the United States. Possibly his most indicting claim in Sicko is not merely the ugly concept of state-sponsored economic discrimination but that of an insidious social line being drawn between politicians and the public.
Then again, the film smugly arrives with self-created controversy stemming from his unauthorised and illegal jaunt to Cuba with chronically ill 9/11 volunteers to his strategically publicised feud with CNNs Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, over disagreements in an independent report refuting Moores claims in the film. And its increasingly difficult to fault Moores gung-ho activism over an issue that directly affects the lives and well being of the many faces he presents on screen: from the man who had to choose between two of his severed fingers to the old woman who was literally dumped outside a less exclusive hospital by another healthcare facility by one of its staffers.
Perhaps his most evasive manoeuvring to date, Moore frequently hides behind his choice of interviewees over the issues he accuses the venal system that red tape and corporate governance propagates, such as an interracial couple lamenting their loss on grounds of prejudice and homelessness resulting from the depredation of the elderly, to the larger picture of the insurance companies heinous valuation of human lives as nothing more than protecting its bottom line. This is Moores most infuriating and ambitious feature film as he draws back the stitches and prods the open wound of his countrys state of social welfare.
The horror stories come thick and fast with a gradual emphasis on the privatisation of welfare and the systematic disregard of moral outrage. And by not just elucidating the toxic idiosyncrasies of the status quo but by also rarifying fringe social problems that undermines the most basic human rights, the film routinely jumps from and relates individual anecdotes to national crises. Moore builds to an affected climax that explicitly chips away at the storied history of democracy and capitalism in the United States by cheerfully proclaiming that even socialist Cubas healthcare system, including the treatments offered to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay are superior to that available to unemployed 9/11 volunteers whose respiratory problems originated from the pollutants at the World Trade Centers ground zero. To his credit, Moores self-serving and elongated stunt at the end belies the truth of Sicko in that this is his most grounded film to date by largely avoiding the broad comedic schtick he has been prone to do. He manages an expressive connection to his audience (a staunchly pro-Moore one at that, to be sure) and to lays the groundwork for his most poignant images. He responds on a fundamentally emotional level and not the facetiously droll manner that he purports through the rest of his oeuvre.
While Moores jackhammer touch to documentary filmmaking mirrors his simplistic notion of the political battlefield, its no surprise that the films more informative and furious moments arrive not from the filmmakers rampant postulations but from actual research and questions asked - "Where did it all begin?" the voiceover looms. Reaching back into 1971, Nixon hands over healthcare administration to the likes of Edgar Kaiser (whose Kaiser Permanente is now the largest health insurance company in the country) in an attempt for pockets of government to profit from its citizenry.
One of Moores favourite uses of fiction is his single-sided comparison of the United States to countries abroad, aside from Canada and the aforementioned Cuba, Moore jetsets to Europe France and England to be specific. Reacting as if he knew the answer, Moore insincerely talks to groups of middle-class expatriates who, over glasses of champagne and chic cuisine overbearingly regale us (and mostly the drooling Moore) of their good fortune in escaping from the United States tyranny for the good life. But its telling that Moore never truly addresses Frances turmoil surrounding its lower economic banlieues, which in its own way reflects the United States poorer neighbourhoods and social strata.
Ultimately, Moore uses the tools of the editor to break the rules of the journalist. After a couple of worldwide hits on his hands, its understandable that he does away with the hurdle of subversion by playing up his disregard for his detractors and the establishment that has allowed him to make his wealth and stroke his ego. Sicko has its fair shares of Moore-esque developments that are disgustingly shameless and reductive such as his overly amused faade at anonymously donating funds to the owner of an anti-Moore website whose wife needed treatment. The film in essence works best not as a polemicising rant against Moores opponents but as a persuasive reminder for Americans to exercise awareness over the noxious political entities gambling over life and death right in their country every day.