Sicko (2007)

I’m a neophyte where Michael Moore is concerned. I never watched Roger and Me, nor Bowling for Columbine. I did watch Fahrenheit 911. I’m not a fan of Moore’s, nor am I detractor. Friends invited me to watch Sicko with them, and I said yes just because I was craving a Godfather pizza from the Alamo Drafthouse.

That’s my paragraph-long disclaimer to say I don’t care about his politics, nor the politics of said fans and detractors.

That said, Moore’s reputation does precede him. After the film, one of my friends commented he wasn’t a documentairan — he was polemicist. Another doesn’t really like how Moore inserts himself in the story. If I didn’t consider Moore’s work to be partly entertainment, I’d be more bothered by that as well.

Moore doesn’t hide his agenda, and as such, I’ve turned a skeptical eye to the two films of his I have watched, despite being part of the choir to which he’s probably preaching. Still, watching Sicko was chilling and not surprising.

I’ve so far had the fortune of being covered by medical insurance, even during economically tough times. The closest I’ve come to a health care nightmare was shelling a few hundred bucks for an emergency visit, one which revealed I had to get my gall bladder removed. That procedure, thankfully, was covered 100 percent.

I hate to imagine what would have happened if it weren’t.

Sicko is most effective when relating the stories of people who fall through the cracks of the US health insurance system. As with Fahrenheit 911, Moore wisely steps out of the way and lets his subjects talk. The interview with the insurance representative who knew people calling her would be denied coverage came across as particularly compassionate.

But when Moore starts comparing health care in the US with other countries, his points get muddled. He mentions that the French health care system requires lots of taxes, and he introduces a well-to-do French family who don’t seem to have much problem with those taxes. But Moore provides no numbers. He doesn’t reveal that family’s income, nor does he itemize the taxes levied on that income. Omission?

The round-table discussion with Americans living in France wasn’t convincing either, but that’s because I work with French people who live in the US. In the same way the France-residing Americans extol the virtues of their host country, my French co-workers raze their homeland for its inefficiencies and express relief from being distant to it all.

Moore shows the French government is afraid of its citizenry, because the people makes their displeasure known. He doesn’t show the French people frustrated by their government’s inability to act because of that fear.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Sicko was Moore’s restraint in punking the object of his disdain. It’s not until the very end of the film that he pulls his dramatic stunt — taking ill American citizens to Guantanamo Bay for examinations by doctors at the infamous US detention center. It almost seemed Moore would actually make it through an entire film without pulling a stunt.

It was still disheartening to see a Cuban doctor reverse the regimen of an American doctor treating one of the film’s subjects. The nebulous system against which the film rails feels concrete through the eyes of people subject to its whims.

As smug as Moore can seem at times, he does value the use of humor. Making an anonymous donation to the stricken wife of a vocal critic is just … dick. But that’s killing with kindness, I guess.

Sicko still didn’t make me budge from my non-partisan stance on Michael Moore. It didn’t turn me into a fan, and it didn’t make me hate him either. It confirmed some cynical suspicions about how health care works in the US, but it didn’t galvanize me into action.

The film does piece together an compelling picture of the US health care system, and Moore can spin a good story. But the holes in his talking points were enough to keep me skeptical.