Director: Michael Moore
Writer: Michael Moore
Cinematographer: Christoph Vitt
Starring: Michael Moore
Studio/Running Time: Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company, 113 min.
When Michael Moore announced in 2004 that his next feature would focus on the health industry, he read from a Pfizer memo instructing its employees on what to do if approached by a “bearded, heavyset man wearing rumpled clothing and holding a microphone.” It seems that Pfizer expected Moore to use the same-film-different-industry formula he’s employed for the past decade and come at them through his typically embarrassing interviews and forced confrontations. If only they were so lucky.
SiCKO begins with the disclaimer that it’s not about Americans who lack health insurance. This turns out to be false, not due to Moore’s focus but instead because of the film’s message: The group of people without adequate coverage is a lot larger than we thought. SiCKO’s first half comprises a series of vignettes that illustrate – through various, tragic cases of actual people – each level where healthcare can be denied. These people, all nominally insured, have their lives wrecked by a system created not to help them but rather to make money denying them the aid they need. This segues smoothly into the film’s second half, an exploration of alternative healthcare systems beginning with the obvious choice of Canada but continuing on to Britain, France, and finally, in Moore’s typically dramatic fashion, Cuba. Although the film still contains Moore’s trademark pandering voice-over and questionable fact-checking, SiCKO displays the same technical skill as his last two films, and there is certainly no denying his mastery of the documentary form.
Since its premiere at Cannes, SiCKO has repeatedly been called Moore’s most “mature” film to date. Whether this is true is questionable, since the trip to Cuba is perhaps Moore’s greatest – and likewise most immature – stunt yet, but in any case, this claim misses the point. By lacking confrontation, SiCKO shines the spotlight where it should be – on the individuals Moore wishes to help rather than those he attacks. For the first time, the targets of Moore’s film need not fear the bearded, heavyset man; instead they should be worried about his audience.