Michael Moore/USA/2007; R4
Reel/Roadshow, NZ$19.95 | Reviewed by Alexander Bisley

MICHAEL MOORE is simplistic and one-eyed and perhaps the best force to hit documentary. In addition to opening the gates for a formidable array of documentary, his work is compelling and amusing. In Sicko Dr Moore diagnoses America’s health system. The results aren’t favourable. It’s not just the 50 million Americans without health insurance that are in the proverbial. Considerable amount of covered Americans aren't getting the care they deserve. Moore takes a scalpel to America’s health insurance industry, America’s Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs). He socks it to the fat cats who put their greed ahead of the people’s right to health.

Moore accounts scurillous HMO history from Richard Nixon’s days. Tricky Dicky is caught on those 1971 tapes enthusing about the system as it is “for profit”. There’s hilarious footage of actor Ronald Reagan famously sermonising against “socialised medicine” on a record, arguing it’s the slippery slope to communism.

Hillary Clinton appears first as heroine, riding to Washington in 1996 to present universal health to the masses. Sicko documents the extraordinary, lavish campaign that was waged against the Clinton Plan. There’s some enjoyable, visceral footage of Hillary slugging it out with Republican stooges like Lousiania’s Billy Tauzin and Texas’ Dick Armey. “Your Mama might be talking to a bureaucrat instead of a doctor,” one Republican sneers about “socialized medicine”. Other opponents burn Hillary effigies. Obviously Tauzin and Armey have trousered halliburtons of cash. It’s depressing that Hillary became the second-highest Senate recipient of heathcare lobbyist cash, but Moore seems hopeful this villainess streak will pass.

After establishing America’s sick system, Moore busts right-wing myths, presenting a compelling, albeit rose-tinted, view of public health systems in Canada, England, France and Cuba. Tony Benn, one of so few to get the better of Sacha Baron Cohen (as Ali G), is on form.

The feisty, retired Old Labour MP proudly reads from a 1948 pamphlet announcing the National Health Service. “It all begins with democracy,” he beams. An extended interview with Benn is a highlight of the DVD’s extras. Tom Morello was piss-poor at the Big Day Out, but his ‘Alone Without You’ track works OK in this movie.

It’s amusing to watch righties who are as biased as Moore and much less correct slam down his work on the bias card. Also intellectually dishonest are the hip, elitist lefties who dismiss his meaty, man-from-Flint style while lionising the turgid, too often disgraceful Noam Chomsky.

Sicko is Moore’s weakest documentary when compared with the trifecta of Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11. There’s less of Moore audaciously confronting overlords on their own turf. The Awful Truth episode where Moore conducted a tracheotomy choir at the corporate headquarters of Big Tobacco on Christmas Eve; Moore being thrown out of Gentral Motors HQ when he presented his fried chicken card as media accreditation in Roger and Me; Moore challenging gun nut James Nicholls on the second amendment at his home in Bowling for Columbine; Moore harassing chickenhawk congressmen in Fahrenheit 9/11.

Does Moore’s wide-eyed Cuba presentation make him a big, waddling target for the right? He should have criticised Castro’s inexcusable human rights abuses, but there are strong, topical things to say about Cuban healthcare. Moore provides counter-balance to today’s scandalously right-biased media, but he should have allowed Sicko more shades of grey. The documentary isn’t perfect. Neither are public heath systems (and democracy itself). But as very eminent economists like Paul Krugman argue, it’s cheaper to do the right thing. Sicko shows us LA footage of mentally disturbed people who can’t afford to pay their bills being dumped on skid row. When this can happen in the wealthiest country in the world, something is wrong. “Who are we?” Moore asks.