Michael Moore began from a point of anger.
His first film, Roger and Me (1989), documented his attempts to speak to General Motors CEO Roger B. Smith, whose company laid off thousands of workers in Flint, Michigan, Moore’s adapted hometown, including some of his friends. Moore narrated the documentary and appeared as a leading character, a pattern that he has followed in most of his succeeding films.
Moore has tried his hand at television shows (TV Nation, The Awful Truth) and a woeful narrative feature (Canadian Bacon), steering back to the feature documentary format most successfully in Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, two movies that, again, were driven by anger. He’s also been a successful author, translating his personality into print in eight books.
In Where to Invade Next, Moore tries a different approach. It’s more a wistful grab-bag of ruminations, rather than his usual straightforward attack, but it’s still a strident picture. This time, however, Moore’s anger has been tamped down into the form of a travelogue, with Moore visiting a variety of countries in Europe (and one in the Middle East), cherry-picking a particular and enviable governmental benefit in each country and wondering why the U.S. can’t enjoy the same benefits.
It’s intended to outrage and infuriate, of course, and on that score Moore largely succeeds, though a fair percentage of that outrage and fury can be lobbed back into Moore’s face. He runs all over Europe, pretending to plant the American flag and claiming that he will “steal” the great ideas he discovers, and it’s all rather disingenuous and insincere, as though Moore didn’t carefully research in advance and assemble ideas that reflect his own beliefs.
Really, it reminds of Captain Renault (Claude Rains) in Casablanca, exclaiming “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!” a moment before a croupier hands him his winnings from the evening. In Moore’s case, there’s little doubt that he is truly sincere in wanting to see changes in America, but his methods quickly become grating in Where to Invade Next.
This has been an unfortunate pattern in Moore’s films. They function as activist propaganda, evidently intended to rile people into action, without delineating a clear course toward change. Toward that end, they are splendidly effective, as long as one already agrees with Moore’s point of view. Like several of Moore’s other films, Where to Invade Next is excessively long and becomes repetitive. Yes, there are some good ideas in the film. Now what?
The film opens in theaters across Dallas on Friday, February 12.