January 24, 1999 -- Michael Moore, who created the film "Roger and Me," has once again set his sights on modern corporate robber barons in his new film "The Big One."
Moore, appears to be a buffoon, an overweight clown in a baseball hat, but appearances are deceptive. Under that hat is a keen wit and that slovenly shuffle is really a relentless onslaught. His values are those of union organizers of the 1930s, as evidenced by one scene where he talks to a man who remembers those days, Studs Terkel. Studs, who is now a radio talk show host, plays one of those old union songs for Moore, a guest on his show.
You can see Moore perk up as he hears that song. He talks about what unions did for this country and how ashamed those old union organizers would be of what has become of the labor movement now. The film is about a book signing tour to promote Moore's latest book, "Downsize This!" During the tour Moore makes side trips to factories that are closing down. He talks to people who have to work two jobs to make ends meet.
During one such stop, he talks to workers who have lost their jobs after a factory making a $20 million annual profit is closed down. At another factory, also profitable, and also closing, he presents a small check, less than a dollar, to management to pay their first Mexican worker a day's wage. The jobs from the Wisconsin factory are moving to Mexico.
Stunned by the ferocity of Moore's attacks, the hapless company bureaucrats argue they are just trying to make the company competitive and that the workers were given plenty of notice about the closing and that they understand. Moore interviews a worker, who was told he was losing his job only one day before the plant closed, and of course, he does not understand why.
The mantra of being competitive is repeated over and over again as Moore visits company after company asking them about downsizing. At one company he is nearly arrested after being kicked out in the street by soulless flunkies protecting their spineless bureaucrat bosses. No company executive will see him, until he meets with Phil Knight, head of Nike.
No doubt Knight wishes he hadn't tangled with Moore, who offers him two plane tickets to Indonesia to tour the factories where children as young as 14 make pennies an hour to build the shoes Nike sells for hundreds of dollars. In the end, months after the filmed interview, Knight finally agrees to raise the minimum working age at Nike factories to 18. It is one of a few small victories in the movie, along with some votes to unionize some bookstores.
This is a side of American life we don't see in the movies, or anywhere else in the mainstream media, for that matter. Nobody talks about the lack of high-paying jobs. Nobody talks about the decline in health care benefits or the damage to families caused by people having to work two jobs. Nobody talks about prisoners working for low wages taking airline reservations and giving out travel advice. All we hear about is how rich Bill Gates is and how the Dow Jones average is getting ready to hit 10,000.
Some of the best parts of the movie are when Moore interviews ordinary working people who explain how the quality of their lives is declining, despite the rosy news from Wall Street. Less impressive is Moore's grandstanding. Moore is funny as a stand-up comic during his book promotion speaking engagements, but it is his relentless pursuit of the corporate suits that shows his true nature. He is a muckraker at heart, filled with righteous indignation and rage.
The movie isn't a true documentary because some scenes are staged, but a lot of it rings true, nonetheless. The camera work is sometimes shaky and the editing could have been better, but it hangs together fairly well for a film that was obviously done on the cheap and on what must have been an exhausting shooting schedule. This film rates a B.
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