Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Movie Review: 'Sicko'

What is intended to shock in 'Sicko' really does shock. You sit watching a mother with a swing set in the background, tell the story of how her daughter fell sick with a high fever. She was raced to hospital in an ambulance only to be kept waiting while her treatment was sanctioned by her insurance company. She was informed she had to go to another hospital as selected by the insurance company and could only travel by car. On eventually reaching the hospital her daughter went into cardiac arrest and died. I had been waiting throughout the woman’s story for her daughter, no more than 1 one year old at the time, to appear alive on screen after what had been an ordeal. But no, this woman is telling the story of standing in an Accident and Emergency room, while doctors stand by refusing to treat her sick child because she is not covered to be treated in that hospital.

‘Sicko’ is a strange mix of commentary. It captures injustice at all levels and draws in corporate greed, references 9/11, questions Americans anathema to socialism, with Moore’s trademark ability to make a point using archive film footage and soundbites. We meet people who cannot afford health care, people who have health care but have been bankrupted by the medical costs not covered by their policies. We meet former employees who look for loop holes to avoid payment, doctors who openly admit they have looked for ways to avoid providing treatment. The documentary travels to Europe, Canada, Gunatanemo Bay and Cuba looking at the free health care in those respective places, as volunteers from 9/11 who have suffered lasting injuries, look on as the US authorities claim they were not employees of the city so are not entitled to benefits.

You cannot but be cautious in how much of the information you embrace. Some of it seems over simplified, there are over idealised versions of the French and UK health systems, and always the sense that an alleged 500 hours of footage have been cut very selectively, using the most convincing people, while some scenes in Cuba in particular seem staged. Always, though the horrific stories and the sorry state people have been left in are testament to a hugely problematic system. The problem with Moore’s wide canvas is that at times he veers too much off course, whether it be clinging to saccharine sentiments as opposed to hitting us with more facts or aiming unnecessarily for sensation when he already has a shocking story to tell. I found myself at times confused by the agenda of the film, showing clips from various Bush administration personnel testifying to the happy state of the ill in Gunatanemo to unceremoniously brandishing both Hilary Clinton and Bush as easily bribed at the expense of the public. Maybe there is no politically aligned agenda and Moore’s mission is simply to demonstrate the flaws in the system, irrespective of who is in power. This is in of itself a noble cause, though ultimately the impact of the film is slightly diluted by generalisations thrown in for little but sarcastic or dramatic effect.


JL Pagano said...

I'm not a huge MM fan, but I would defend his use of hyperbole - you should hear (or I'm sure you actually have heard) the way the conservative right go to extremes to generalize the Left. The difference is, the majority of the Left would be that much more willing to distinguish between what was whimsical exaggeration and what was cold hard fact.

CK said...

I absolutely believe there is a need for the type of information Moore provides. America and its public, deal in extremes and alternatives need to be presented to the world view imposed on people by its government.