Running a fever

Michael Moore sticks a thermometer in the mouth of America’s health-care system

I SEE LONDON, I SEE FRANCE<br>Michael Moore does “research” in Paris.

Michael Moore does “research” in Paris.

Directed by Michael Moore. Tinseltown. Rated PG-13.
Rated 4.0

No matter what the ideological tendency, one has to step back and admire America’s most tenacious idealist … even if it is for no other reason than the fact that Michael Moore in his quixotic adventures has managed to revive the documentary form as mainstream entertainment. However, it’s the entertainment aspect of the man’s approach that tends to diminish the massage of the message. That and the unassailable fact that he tilts at impregnable windmills. Downsizing, gun control, corrupt government. And now with Sicko, the dismal state of the nation’s health-care system.

As one health-care worker avows: “Health-insurance companies suck. Just plain suck.”

And with his trademark tone of perplexed bemusement, Moore sets out to illustrate how much they suck. Apparently they suck much, much more than most healthy folks would imagine … that is, until they give their shiny insurance plan a workout. As illustrated here, we’ve got Catch-22 for the new millennium. As Moore winds up for the pitch, Sicko isn’t about the 50 million Americans who move about their daily life without the dubious benefit of health insurance, it’s about the benighted folks who actually suffer under the shell game that poses as a health-care system under the snapping stars and stripes.

In preparation for the documentary, Moore sent out invitations for personal horror stories, and received more than 25,000 responses. Some of those folks died during the course of filming, and others are vividly portrayed in their humiliating quest to try to squeeze out some recompense for what they’ve paid for.

Also included is testimony from disillusioned workers in the trade, as one confesses to Congress: “I denied a man a necessary operation that would have saved his life and thus caused his death. No person and no group has held me accountable for this. Because, in fact, what I did was I saved a company a half-million dollars with this.” She then details how she continued to make her way up the corporate ladder by finding new and unique ways of condemning people to death.

Moore then goes on to illustrate how our system compares to those of Canada, Great Britain, France and Cuba (a jaunt to the latter eventually landed him in a boatload of trouble with the State Department), and it’s not a pretty picture.

In past efforts like Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore has had his arguments dismissed or undermined by seemingly (even to the choir) playing loose with the facts and using the vehicles as a showcase for himself. However, with Sicko the man has stepped back and apparently re-evaluated his approach, remaining off screen and letting his subjects offer their testimonies themselves. In doing so, the film plays as a much more balanced indictment of the subject matter than his previous films.

Whether he accomplishes anything with the new tactic remains to be seen. But if the trials of getting the feature to the screen is any indication (and the Machiavellian leaking of the movie to the Internet before it even opened …), the prognosis is doubtful.