Monday, July 2, 2007


A few years ago, a woman told President Bush during a public hearing that she had to work three jobs to sustain her family. Bush smiled and replied, "Uniquely American, isn't it?" Maybe it is...but that's not something to be proud of.

That's one of only a few clips of Bush that appears in Sicko, his new documentary which has a much tighter focus than his last few films. He's taking on the health care system here in America, the costs and restrictions of which take a heavy toll on millions of Americans like that woman working three jobs.

Moore has already criticized Bush extensively (and before it was trendy, no less), and this time he lays the blame on just about everyone currently in Washington. He flashes back to the 90s, when Republicans and the Health Care lobby dismantled Hillary Clinton's proposal for Universal Health Care, and then turns around and blasts Hillary for the disgusting amount of contributions she has received from the same lobby in the years since.

However, the focus of Sicko is not really on polticians at all, but on average American folk. The opening minutes chronicle the struggles of a few people without any health insurance, like the man who lost two fingers but could only afford to get one replaced. Yet most of the stories come from people who do have health insurance and still can't get any treatment because the industry is entirely committed to making money instead of, you know, helping anyone.

There's the woman who drove into Canada because her insurance company refused to cover treatment for her cervical cancer. The widow of a man who was denied a bone-marrow transplant until it was too late. The old couple who lost their house to massive medical bills and had to move into their daughter's storage room. Moore wisely stays behind the camera during these sequences, only providing his signature sarcastic narration. In fact, he doesn't appear on screen until about 45 minutes in, when he's interviewing his own aunt and uncle.

The second half of the movie drags and is less strong. Moore goes to Canada and a few European countries and shows off their socalized health-care systems. It's not hard to make the point that most of the Western World has better health care than us, yet this section goes on for almost an hour. It's also hard to swallow that a world-famous filmmaker like him can still try and pass of the image of himself as a wandering, salt-of-the-earth John Q. Public.

The final sequence, in which Moore takes 9/11 rescue workers to Cuba for medical treatment because they couldn't afford it in the USA, has already drawn considerable controversy. It's vintage Moore, which both helps and hurts. His showboating is often hilarious, but it also gives his critics ammunition. They tend to be selective in their attacks, and will no doubt dissect the admittedly fairy-tale quality of this whole segment.

They won't talk about the testimonials, however. What can anyone even say? It's the power of these stories alone that makes Sicko one of the finest films released this year so far. The movie has come at the right time, when a looming presidential election is getting candidates to discuss what they would do to help those manhandled by the current health care system. Most politicians propose adding a few band-aids to try and fix the current one, but Moore is advocating the socialized system of the other countires he visited. It's quite audacious, given that there's still a scary and disproportinate fear of socialism left over from the McCarthy era. Maybe that's the solution, and maybe it isn't. I'll venture this, however: Nobody can walk away from Sicko and think that the system is just fine the way it is.

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