I found the release of Sicko, Michael Moore's latest documentary polemic, to be a rather strange state of affairs. After the critical success of Roger and Me (1989), and a short stint on television where he propelled Louis Theroux to stardom, Moore achieved commercial success hitherto unknown to documentary makers with his breakthrough film Bowling for Columbine (2002). This meant that the pre-release hype for his follow up Farenheit 9/11 (2004) was quite simply unheard of for a documentary - and so was the box office gross.
It is puzzling, therefore, to find a low key release for his latest film Sicko. Normally the words “low key” and “Michael Moore” go together about as well as “George Bush” and “Political acumen”, but this film didn't even make it to my local cinema - so I welcomed the opportunity to view the DVD.
I should probably make something clear at this point. I approach Moore's work with a healthy degree of scepticism. Whereas he does make some valid points in his films, to me there are simply too many times whereas he is prepared to stretch the truth to breaking point in order to validate his agenda. And that, in a nutshell, is my major problem with the man's work. He has an agenda when going in, and will do anything to prove that agenda. He will twist the truth, harangue people, and pull any stunt possible to get his point across. Of course, this is the approach that will get his message across to the largest amount of people, and it could be argued that this is a good thing. Personally, I think it's important to watch his films and then to do further research and discover for yourself what is true and what isn't.
And nowhere is this illustrated better than in this film. Sicko is Moore taking on the American Health care system and some of the information he comes up with is quite frankly stunning. There are two main groups of people in America. Those who have private health insurance and those who don't. The latter are not catered for here, instead Moore looks at those who pay for their policies only to find that when they need them, the policies will not cover them.
The majority of the film is actually a Moore-free zone, allowing the public to tell their story. And a very frightening story it is too. Prepare to be shocked as some scenes will truly move you, notably a confused patient dumped in a homeless shelter because her health insurance has run out.
Unfortunately, Moore cannot resist his publicity hungry stunts. Thus we see him standing outside Guantamo Bay with a megaphone at one point, and at another he takes some 9/11 veterens to Cuba to get the health care they cannot get in the USA. No mention of whether the pills they can buy there at a vastly inferior cost to the mainland, are of a comparable quantity.
Where he truly stretches credibility though is when he holds the English NHS as a shining beacon of light. I am sorry, but I am sure that many people reading this will have their own NHS horror stories to share. I am not pretending that we don't have things much better than the states, but the portrayal here is certainly not the NHS I have had the misfortune to use over the past few years. And it is when he is portraying something that close to home that we truly realise just how far Moore can twist facts.
However, despite this exaggeration, I would argue that this is probably Moore's best work to date. It eschews the comedy moments of some of his early work, in favour of a much more serious approach. And although he does pull off some stunts, you do genuinely get a more serious feeling from this documentary - an feeling that just maybe he has learnt to reign in his excesses in order to get his message across in a clearer way. But then again, his next film is a sequel to Farenheit 9/11 so maybe we will see a return to his previous self-aggrendisement.
Whatever the future brings, however, I do recommend this film. Some scenes should be taken with a pinch of salt for sure, but the central message is a valid one, and despite our own NHS' faults - this film just might make you realise how lucky we are. I would prefer to be French though.