Having gone through a period of Michael Moore 'fatigue' following Fahrenheit 9/11, it was with some trepidation I went to see Sicko last weekend, not least with so many contrasting reviews either slagging it off as pretty much his worst film to date or praising it to the hilt as his best!
And how interesting was a film about the US medical insurance system likely to be anyway?
Surprisingly so, as it turned out, once I'd finished hiding under my jacket during the opening scenes of uninsured patients performing unaffordable surgery on themselves, that is.
While I'd heard of US citizens having to re-mortgage their homes in order to continue cancer treatment once their insurance had run out, I had no idea of the myriad of other outrageous injustices that were exposed in turn before my appalled eyes.
And yes there was a certain amount of gratuitous gimmickry involved as there always is in a MM film, such as the trip to Guantanamo Bay with some let down 9/11 heroes to demand access to the same free state of the art medical services that the 'evildoers' were entitled to, followed by the astonishing trip to Cuba to seek help for them there.
The trip to Hammersmith hospital to see how the Brits were treated by comparison was pretty amusing too. Not a single patient clogging the waiting room and sparkly floors and jolly (and rich) doctors galore! Evidently the hospital had had some weeks notice of MMs' visit! And while we Brits may receive medical care for free, there was no mention of the malnutrition or MRSA we risked after surgery. Or indeed the lengthy waiting lists before. And what about how they re-charge through exhorbitant TV/telephone facilities for patients and visitor car parking fees! But once our laughter at these scenes had subsided, my companion and I agreed we were still luckier to live in Britain than the States after some of the horror stories of sick patients whose death warrants were effectively signed though being refused insurance, or who were ejected from hospitals when their insurance ran out, if marginally luckier. The film also made the sobering point that even we Brits shouldn't take free healthcare for granted as political threats to it would never be far away.
Having followed Michael Moore's career since Roger & Me exposed the late 80s shenanigans of General Motors, of which he himself was a victim, like most people, I am torn between appreciating the fact that MM makes films that need to be made and getting just a little bit sick of that baseball cap and 'I'm just a regular guy, even a bit of a schmuck' routine. I think it's high time he changed his image and felt safe to dress in clothes that fit, not leastways now everyone knows who he is anyway, so disguise is futile! (remember our own undercover-meister Roger Cook?)
And this film had so much horrifying true-life material, there was really no need to dress it up as well, though the price tag graphics bobbing over the politicians taking the stage at a rally were inspired and I like the fact Michael Moore doesn't get bogged down in the spaghetti of politics, just boils it all down to each politicians' kick-back 'price' and the telling information of where they went to work next once they got the useful-to-their-future-corporate-employer legislation through.
So for all the carping that MM's a one trick pony who's running out of steam, I came away thinking - wow this is actually an amazing film which everyone needs to see - one of his best yet! A feeling I haven't had since his last masterpiece 'Bowling for Columbine'. And his philosophy is essentially right - the ways of the world shouldn't be some mysterious thing that only politicians and people with economists' degrees can understand, not least if they are supposed to benefit we the people who tax-finance and vote for it all, largely trusting the outcome will be in our interests.