Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Michael Moore
Michael Moore’s first film in six years is another provocative, acerbic and yet somehow entertaining polemic about the ills of contemporary America. As usual he is front and centre in his film, but here he seems a lot more positive and optimistic than he has been in earlier documentaries. It seems that Moore hasn’t changed his approach to his subject matter, his political or social views – or indeed his clothes by the look of it – since his breakthrough film Roger & Me in 1989. Moore is a provocateur whose other films include the controversial Bowling For Columbine, in which he took a scathing look at America’s gun control laws, and Fahrenheit 9/11, which tackled the war on terror.
In Where To Invade Next he looks at the discordance between American values and actions at home, and he looks at social policies concerning education, health, justice from a unique perspective. He points the finger at the failings in these key social policies in the world’s richest and most powerful country. Armed with an American flag and a sense of self righteousness, Moore and his regular film crew visit a number of countries which have social policies that instil a sense of compassion, justice and fairness into their society. His aim is to bring some of these “radical ideas” back home to America, which is floundering under a wealth of social problems that no army can fix. His grand idea is to bring these great social policies back home to America and fix the obvious problems. As he ironically points out, it seems that the American Dream is alive and well in other countries except America.
Thus he explores a utopian Europe. He visits places like Italy, where the people seem to live, on average, four years longer than Americans, because they enjoy a genuinely happy lifestyle. Workers are paid a generous salary and have eight weeks of paid vacation per year, and there seems to be harmony between the workers and management. He visits Finland which boasts the best educated students in the world, this despite cutting back on school hours and dropping homework altogether. He visits France, where the people pay a higher tax rate than the US, but where they benefit from free education and health care and a range of other social services. He even visits a school cafeteria to check out what the average French student eats, and is surprised at what he learns, and tastes with a gourmet meal prepared by a chef.
Slovenia has free university education – even for nonresidents! Unlike the US, where the average 22 year old is heavily in debt upon completing college and starting out in the work force. And Norway’s prison system is based on rehabilitation rather than punishment, and apparently has the lowest recidivism rate in the world. Portugal apparently solved its drug crisis by legalising drugs, which resulted in a lower crime rate.
Moore makes his comparisons with the US quite potent, especially when he includes footage of the national guard moving in to quell riots in the town of Ferguson, and footage of prison guards beating on prisoners. And, as he also points out, 60% of US taxes are spent on the military rather than other vital social services. It is all sobering stuff and quite persuasive. And much of it is delivered with Moore’s trademark sense of humour and curiosity. He keeps things positive and upbeat with a sort of blind optimism. And his genial humour helps audiences swallow the bitter pill more easily.
But there is also a sense that Moore is cherry picking those social policies that satisfy his own personal outlook, and he obviously has his own agenda to follow. He is often manipulative in his presentation of facts, but it is less obvious here. Moore has a scattergun approach to his material, and he tends to overload the audience with too much information, Ultimately the documentary eventually becomes a little unfocused. This is especially so when he includes women’s rights in his agenda, and when he also visits Iceland, which started the economic collapse of 2008 but which managed to jail many of the corrupt bankers – unlike America, where the government spent billions of taxpayer dollars to bailout the banks.
There is no doubting Moore’s passion for his subject here, but while Where To Invade Next may not his most authoritative or persuasive documentary it is still provocative and entertaining with some eye opening revelations.